Capitol Alert

'Terrifying': Advocates say abortion, gay rights threatened by Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement

Reaction from groups supporting abortion rights and gay rights was swift following the announcement that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is stepping down, giving President Donald Trump a chance to name his replacement. We compiled their responses:

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America

"The significance of today’s news cannot be overstated: The right to access abortion in this country is on the line. For more than 40 years, access to safe and legal abortion has been the law of the land and the right to control your body is an essential American liberty. With this vacancy, Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell hold the balance of the court in their hands — and with it, the legal right to access abortion in this country. President Trump has promised to only appoint justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade. The idea of Trump having his choice to fill another vacancy is terrifying for not only abortion rights, but for our ability to live free from discrimination in this country. Planned Parenthood and our 11 million supporters call on the Senate to reject any nominee who would strip people's individual rights and freedoms."

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York

Mr. President, we recently received news that Justice Anthony Kennedy will be retiring, leaving a vacancy on the nation’s highest court. This is the most important Supreme Court vacancy for this country in at least a generation. Nothing less than the fate of our health care system, reproductive rights for women, and countless other protections for middle-class Americans are at stake. Will Republicans and President Trump nominate and vote for someone who will preserve protections for people with pre-existing conditions, or will they support a justice who will put health insurance companies over patients, or put the federal government between a woman and her doctor? The Senate should reject, on a bipartisan basis, any justice who would overturn Roe v. Wade or undermine key health care protections. The Senate should reject anyone who will instinctively side with powerful special interests over the interests of average Americans. Our Republican colleagues in the Senate should follow the rule they set in 2016 not to consider a Supreme Court nominee in an election year. Senator McConnell would tell anyone who listened that the Senate had the right to advise and consent, and that was every bit as important as the president’s right to nominate. Millions of people are just months away from determining the senators who should vote to confirm or reject the president’s nominee, and their voices deserve to be heard now, as Leader McConnell thought they deserved to be heard then. Anything but that would be the absolute height of hypocrisy. People from all across America should realize that their rights and opportunities are threatened. Americans should make their voices heard loudly, clearly, and consistently. Americans should make it clear that they will not tolerate a nominee chosen from President Trump’s pre-ordained list, selected by powerful special interests, who will reverse the progress we have made over the decades.

Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY's List

The ramifications of this announcement are enormous and terrifying. Republicans will use this opportunity to nominate and confirm yet another anti-choice justice to the Supreme Court — a single individual with the power to repeal Roe v. Wade; endangering the lives of tens of millions of American women in the process, jeopardizing our health care, and undermining our rights. We will not stop fighting to elect pro-choice Democratic women to the Senate who will defend women's access to safe, legal abortion and other forms of critical reproductive health care and fight for the rights of all Americans. The stakes could not be higher.

Equality California, on behalf of Executive Director Rick Zbur

"As the architect of four landmark LGBTQ civil rights decisions – Romer, Lawrence, Windsor, and Obergefell – that guaranteed our community the equal dignity we all deserve, Justice Kennedy played a historic role on the Supreme Court. While Justice Kennedy has been known as as a fair-minded, independent voice on the court, it is particularly disappointing that he has chosen to end his career after supporting three shameful rulings rolling back the clock on religious discrimination, reproductive rights and the rights of workers. The stakes for the next nomination are too high for our community to sit back and let the White House ram through another anti-LGBTQ extremist. It is incumbent upon all of us to ensure Justice Kennedy's replacement is willing to stand up to the Trump-Pence Administration and protect our civil rights. We urge every member of the United States Senate who supports equality and social justice for the LGBTQ community, for women, for immigrants and for communities of color to refuse to confirm any nominee until after the November midterm elections. As Senator McConnell said in 2016, 'The American people are perfectly capable of having their say on this issue, so let's give them a voice. Let's let the American people decide.'"

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

"During his three decades of service on the Supreme Court, Justice Kennedy was the fifth and deciding vote in several landmark cases. He was the architect of four landmark decisions that helped bring LGBTQ people and their families out of the shadows and recognized their full humanity under law and in the public square. And he was also a swing vote against harsh criminal sentences and restrictions to reproductive healthcare for women. But as we saw just this week, he more often voted to undermine civil rights protections. The Supreme Court is the last line of defense for our civil and human rights and it serves as a crucial check on the other branches of government. Especially at a time when so many rights and freedoms are under threat, it is crucial that Justice Kennedy’s successor be a fair-minded and independent jurist, rather than the narrow-minded extremists offered by President Trump. President Trump has repeatedly boasted about applying ideological litmus tests to compile his shortlist of 25 potential Supreme Court nominees. Many of these shortlisted nominees have recently been examined by the Senate for lower court nominations so we know the type of narrow-minded views they would bring to our highest court. These shortlisters have well-established records of bias against women, the LGBTQ community, people of color, immigrants, environmental protection, and access to healthcare. Anyone who earned a spot on President Trump’s shortlist cannot be viewed as sufficiently independent to serve on our Supreme Court. The Constitution assigns the Senate a critical role in the selection and consideration of Supreme Court nominees. Justice Kennedy was confirmed to the highest court only after two previous nominees were named. That serves as an important reminder of the independent vetting that the Senate conducts for these powerful lifetime appointments. Many of our civil and human rights hang in the balance with this Supreme Court vacancy. We urge all senators to put their country over party and demand that the President tear up his shortlist and instead nominate someone with a clear reputation for fairness and independence."

Rachel B. Tiven, Chief Executive Officer of Lambda Legal

“After decades of leadership on the court for LGBT rights, in the final hour of his 30-year tenure on the bench, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy heralded in a Muslim ban and left open the question of whether the far right has a license to discriminate against the LGBT community and other marginalized groups. “We are shocked and saddened that a justice who was once the defender of dignity for LGBT people and our families on the court would chose this moment to hang up his robe and give the Trump administration the opportunity to further derail anti-discrimination laws and undermine the rule of law. “For the last few years, Lambda Legal has been leading the fight to protect the courts from Trump’s onslaught of anti-LGBT judges. We have watched as the White House embraced every nominee approved by the Heritage Foundation in their plan to undue Obama-era protections and weaken laws that protect the rights of every American, not just the wealthy and the powerful. “The American people deserve to have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, not a single nominee by the Trump administration should get a hearing or a vote until after the November 2018 mid-term elections. Given everything happening in this country, and the fact that this President has worked to push through his own hateful agenda, the American people have a right to be heard before this critical decision. “We cannot allow 40 more years of Trump’s values on the Supreme Court. Attempts by President Trump and Vice President Pence to use a new court vacancy as a way to deprive us of our dignity, to demean our community, or to diminish our status as equal citizens will be met with a chorus of opposition from civil rights leaders across the country. We have already seen the damage that has been done by the confirmation of Justice Gorsuch to the highest court in the land. We will not roll over and acquiesce to yet another attempt by this administration to tarnish the Supreme Court -- one of our most revered institutions -- with another nominee who shares their distorted view of the law.”

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon

"This is a disaster for everyone who believes in the 'We the People' vision of the Constitution. I’m worried about Roe v. Wade."

Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force

“With Kennedy’s retirement, Trump now has the power to appoint a person who will disrespect the Constitution, as he has, and allow politics to determine their decisions. He currently has a Congress that, when last considered a Trump appointee to the Court, changed the rules on Supreme Court appointments to allow a simple majority vote to rule the day. We must not kid ourselves, we must fight back and demand the Senate not confirm anyone who would weaken the rights of LGBTQ people and women.”

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