People For the American Way

Democratic Presidential Candidates Address Courts and Abortion at February Debate

People For in Action
Democratic Presidential Candidates Address Courts and Abortion at February Debate
Candidates take the stage for the February 7, 2020 Democratic presidential debate.

On Friday, February 7, Democratic presidential hopefuls converged on St. Anselm College in New Hampshire for the first of three presidential debates being held this month. Six of the seven candidates were able to share their thoughts on federal judges and the Supreme Court in response to moderator David Muir’s question about a litmus test for abortion.

Muir, anchor and managing editor of “World News Tonight,” opened up the topic of courts by saying that President Trump has appointed 191 federal judges and two Supreme Court justices, fulfilling his campaign promise to shift the federal judiciary to the right. He then posed the question about whether there should be a litmus test on abortion. The candidates responded to the question and then broadened the question to discuss the importance of the courts to our daily lives.

Here are the candidate responses.

Former Vice President Joe Biden:

“Yes look, here’s the deal, a litmus test on abortion relates to a fundamental value of the Constitution. A woman does have a right to choose; I would in fact, if ruled to be unconstitutional, I will send to the United States Congress – and it will pass, I believe – a bill that legislates Roe v. Wade and as adjusted by Casey – it’s a woman’s right to do that, period. And if you call that a litmus test, it’s a litmus test.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren:

“I’ve lived in an America in which abortion was illegal and rich women still got abortions and that’s what we have to remember about this … states are heading toward trying to ban abortion outright and the Supreme Court seems to be headed in exactly that direction as well. If we are going to protect the people of the United States of America and we are going to protect our rights to have dominion over our own bodies, then it’s going to mean we can’t simply rely on the courts. Three out of every four people in America believe right now that the rule of Roe v. Wade should be the law. That means we should be pushing for a Congressional solution as well. It is time to have a national law to protect the right of a woman’s choice.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar:

“I would only appoint judges that would respect precedent, and one of those key precedents is Roe v. Wade. In addition, you have got to put it into law. Donald Trump – and I think it’s really important to take it to him here – when he was running for election, and this is a case I will make on the debate stage against him, he actually said that he wanted to put women in jail. He then dialed it back and said, no, I want to put doctors in jail. Is it a big surprise then we’re seeing states like Alabama start enacting laws that would criminalize doctors who perform abortions? It’s not. And that’s why it’s going to be really important when you look at the overwhelming public support for funding Planned Parenthood, for making sure women have access to contraception, for making sure that they have a right to choose, that we make this case strongly and loudly.”

Senator Bernie Sanders:

“Is there a litmus test for those of us up here? For me, there is. I will never nominate any person to the Supreme Court or the federal courts in general who is not 100% pro-Roe v. Wade. Number two, we have got to codify Roe v. Wade into legislation. Number three, we have to significantly expand funding for Planned Parenthood.”

Tom Steyer:

“Look what we saw Mitch McConnell do – not just in the Supreme Court with Merrick Garland but across the board with federal judges – was refuse to let President Obama’s picks to be considered. That’s why Mr. Trump has appointed so many judges. Because, in fact, the Republicans refuse to allow President Obama to get his due. And honestly we’re sitting here talking about do you have a litmus test? We all have a litmus test. Everybody on this row feels exactly the same way about a woman’s right to choose. Everybody on this row feels exactly the same way on gun control. Every single one on this row feels the same way. There’s something else going on. These Republicans are in control. They’re stacking the court for a generation with young right-wing radicals. And we’ve watched it happen and the question is what are we going to do about it? That’s where we are in the United States… We have to go win a huge victory this year.”

Buttigieg added that “We cannot allow the Supreme Court to continue to become one more political battlefield as we are seeing today.”

Looking toward the future, former Vice President Biden mentioned that “There are three equal branches of government. It says ‘the President shall nominate [judges]. The Senate shall dispose.’ The Senate shall make that decision, not the President. He can nominate… and that’s why it’s so important we must win back the United States Senate this time out.”

Biden’s statement is important to remember going into the 2020 election. While Trump has been nominating judges, Republican senators have been voting to confirm their lifetime appointments so that Trump judges can accomplish an agenda counter to democracy that otherwise wouldn’t be accomplished through legislation alone. Support candidates who are in favor of fair-minded constitutionalist judges and #VotetheCourts2020.