President Trump on Monday announced Brett Kavanaugh as his Supreme Court justice nominee.
If approved by the Senate, Kavanaugh, 53, who currently serves as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, would take the seat of Justice Anthony Kennedy following his impending retirement from the bench.
The news of Kennedy’s retirement has stoked fears among Democrats, abortion rights activists and everyday citizens that Trump’s nominee could lead to the repeal of the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, which legalized abortion across the United States.
And Dawn Laguens, the executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said that with Trump’s nomination of Kavanaugh, “the constitutional right to access safe, legal abortion in this country is on the line.”
“We already know how Brett Kavanaugh would rule on Roe v. Wade, because the president told us so,” Laguens said, referring to Trump’s vow amid his 2016 presidential campaign to nominate “pro-life justices” whose votes would “automatically” repeal the ruling.
But, perhaps surprisingly for a right-leaning judge, Kavanaugh’s stance on abortion isn’t immediately clear. Here’s what we know about where he stands on abortion and other key issues.
There is debate over Kavanaugh’s stance on abortion, as he never directly confronted the issue as a judge.
During Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing in May 2006, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer asked Kavanaugh if he thought Roe v. Wade was an “abomination,” NBC News reported.
“If confirmed to the D.C. Circuit, I would follow Roe v. Wade faithfully and fully. That would be binding precedent of the court,” Kavanaugh said. “It’s been decided by the Supreme Court.”
When pressed for his personal stance on the Roe v. Wade decision, Kavanaugh evaded the question, saying, “I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to give a personal view of that case.”
More recently, in 2017, Kavanaugh dissented in an appeals court decision that allowed a 17-year-old undocumented girl to get an abortion, asking, “Is it really absurd for the United States to think that the minor should be transferred to her immigration sponsor ― ordinarily a family member, relative, or friend ― before she makes that decision?”
In his dissent, Kavanaugh wrote the Supreme Court has held that “the government has permissible interests in favoring fetal life, protecting the best interests of a minor, and refraining from facilitating abortion,” CNN reported.
But his dissent did not go so far as to say that choosing to have an abortion is unconstitutional, according to Politico. Kavanaugh also wrote that “all parties to this case recognize Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey as precedents we must follow.”
Politico said that Kavanaugh’s actions ultimately showed “a tendency toward caution and compromise that could signal an unwillingness to make waves on the Supreme Court,” including when it comes to reversing longstanding precedents like Roe v. Wade.
The Daily Beast reported on the concerns of LGBTQ activists that Kavanaugh might limit or overturn the relatively new — as of the 2014 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell V. Hudges — constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Kavanaugh has no record on gay marriage, but the Daily Beast noted that, in a case anticipating the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby case, Kavanaugh argued that the Affordable Care Act violated an employer’s religious freedom by requiring employer-provided health insurance plans to cover the cost of contraception.
That same logic was used in the high court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling that upheld a business’ right to refuse service for LGBTQ weddings on religious grounds.
In 2011, Kavanaugh dissented from a decision that upheld a ban on semi-automatic rifles and large-capacity ammunition magazines in Washington, D.C.
Kavanaugh noted in his dissent that the Supreme Court had previously “held that handguns — the vast majority of which today are semi-automatic — are constitutionally protected because they have not traditionally been banned and are in common use by law-abiding citizens.”
“It follows from Heller’s protection of semi-automatic handguns that semi-automatic rifles are also constitutionally protected and that DC’s ban on them is unconstitutional,” Kavanaugh added, referring to a past high court ruling on the matter.