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U.S. senators take sides on Trump's Supreme Court pick

WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. senators are already picking sides after President Donald Trump announced his Supreme Court nominee Monday night, July 9.

Trump will nominate Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who serves on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy. Republicans have a 51-49 majority in the Senate, but with the fear Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., might not make the vote due his battle with brain cancer, the GOP might need some Democrats to cross party lines.

Various media organizations have speculated U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., could be a swing voter. She voted in April 2017 to appoint Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump's Supreme Court nominee who replaced the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

In a statement Monday night, Heitkamp said the process for selecting Gorsuch was "exhaustive and fair."

"And it should and must take place again now," Heitkamp said. "And that's the kind of leadership North Dakotans expect from their senators."

She did not explicitly say whether she would support Trump's pick.

Kavanaugh grew up in Maryland, graduated from Yale and joined the Circuit Court of Appeals in 2006 after two nominations from President George W. Bush. Before that, Kavanaugh worked for Bush in the White House and during his election recount with Democratic opponent Al Gore in 2000.

Democrats have shared concerns with Kavanaugh's partisan past and conservative rulings—earlier this year he wrote a decision calling the Consumer Protection Bureau "unconstitutional," and last fall he dissented from fellow justices on a decision allowing an undocumented teen to seek abortion.

Many of Heitkamp's colleagues—as well as her Republican opponent for Senate this November, U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.—shared their thoughts almost immediately after the announcement.

"Judge Kavanaugh's record shows a deep respect for and strict interpretation of the Constitution," said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who was in the White House during the president's news conference. "Throughout his judicial career, Judge Kavanaugh has demonstrated a strong commitment to upholding the law, rather than legislating from the bench. I look forward to meeting with him as the confirmation process gets underway."

Cramer also praised Kavanaugh's commitment to "the rule of the law and the U.S. constitution," along with Kavanaugh's academic background at Yale. The congressman was with the president in Fargo for a rally promoting Cramer's campaign against Heitkamp just hours after Kennedy announced his retirement June 27. A CNN article published Monday said Cramer had asked the president not to make "some sort of affirmative action pick."

Cramer's campaign office had nothing to add Tuesday afternoon.

Kennedy broke some of the court's most monumental liberal-conservative ties, the most recent of which included decisions on the president's travel ban, labor unions and anti-abortion pregnancy centers. Some Democrats said Kavanaugh, a more committed conservative, could disrupt precedents like Roe v. Wade, which says women have the constitutional right to abortions.

"I am here tonight because I'm a United States senator," Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., said from the Supreme Court steps Monday night. "But I'm also the only senator who has ever worked at Planned Parenthood. And I know that when women do not have the freedom to make their own choices about their reproductive health care, they have lost the freedom to direct their own lives."

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., joined Smith in tweeting about Kavanaugh's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ruling earlier this year and statements the judge has made in favor of a net neutrality repeal.

In a statement the Herald received Tuesday afternoon, Klobuchar said she also was concerned about Kavanaugh's "past rulings on health care and the separation of powers."

"Any nominee to fill Justice Kennedy's seat should be an independent thinker," Klobuchar said. "And as I have said since Justice Kennedy announced his retirement, I don't believe Judge Kavanaugh meets that criteria. I look forward to meeting with him and discussing his record first-hand."

Emily Allen

Allen joined the Grand Forks Herald to cover local government and politics May 2018. Call her at 701-780-1102, email her at eallen@gfherald.com or follow her on Twitter, @Emily_theHerald.

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