The Supreme Court And The Midterms
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
It's a decision that could affect the makeup of the Supreme Court for a generation. And President Trump says he will announce his pick to replace retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in just over a week on Monday, July 9. Democrats are promising a fight with politicians and voters on the left, saying they're battling for the soul of the country. NPR's Mara Liasson is with us now to talk about all things Supreme Court. Good morning, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, Mara, the nominee is being announced less than two weeks since Justice Anthony Kennedy said he's retiring. That feels a little fast for such a big decision.
LIASSON: It's actually not fast because Donald Trump isn't starting from scratch. He already has a list of 25 people that he unveiled during the campaign that he said he's going to choose from. The list was created for him by the Federalist Society. So all of these judges already have passed muster with conservatives. And this list was one of the most important things that Donald Trump did. He's even referred to it that way because he didn't have conservative bona fides. Conservatives were suspicious of him during the campaign, especially when he started talking about putting his sister, who's a liberal judge, on the Supreme Court. But then he came out with this list. And he really did quiet their fears. And he also made it clear in one of the candidate debates in 2016 that overturning Roe was his goal. And here's the exchange with Chris Wallace of Fox News.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CHRIS WALLACE: Do you want to see the court overturn Roe v. Wade?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, if we put another two or perhaps three justices on, that's really what's going to be - this will happen. And that'll happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court.
LIASSON: So maybe it wouldn't happen automatically. It might not happen in one fell swoop. But Roe v. Wade will be overturned. And that's what Donald Trump wanted to do. And the important thing to remember about Trump is he didn't have a natural constituency in the Republican Party, so he had to kind of adopt an agenda - issues from the evangelical right, judges from the Federalist Society. The Heritage Foundation and the Koch brothers helped him staff the government. And he has really delivered on conservatives' agenda in a way that is really almost beyond their wildest dreams. And now he's got another chance to do it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Indeed. And as you mentioned, overturning Roe v. Wade is the ultimate goal of social conservatives. But even though Trump says he wants that to happen, he also told reporters on Friday he wouldn't ask candidates for the Supreme Court nomination how they would rule on abortion. Why not?
LIASSON: Because he doesn't have to. He already knows. I don't think that's necessary. He can now say he doesn't have a litmus test. But every conservative knows that these are judges that will vote against Roe in one way or another over time.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. They've been vetted. So how will the Supreme Court pick affect the midterms and Republican support in Congress?
LIASSON: Well, that's a really interesting question. One thing it's already done is it unified Republicans. Many Republicans didn't like some of Trump's behavior. They didn't like his tariffs. They didn't like his approach to NATO. But the Supreme Court is so important. It kind of washes away a lot of Trump's sins for Republicans because they, as you said, have a chance to remake the court in a conservative direction for a generation. It puts more pressure on two - the two pro-choice Republican female senators, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, although Collins has already come out and said that she would not use a litmus test in her decision.
It puts more pressure on red-state Democratic incumbents who are up for re-election. Some of them voted for Neil Gorsuch. They have to decide which is the more politically risky choice. Do they vote with the president and risk the wrath of the Democratic base? It's not as if the president will stop holding rallies against them in their states if they do vote for his nominee. The Democratic activist base of the party has already said they understand Democrats don't have the votes to block it. But they do expect all Democrats to vote no.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And just briefly - we only have a few seconds left. I mean, as you mentioned, you know, elections are right around the corner. What will the effect on turnout be?
LIASSON: That is the big question. Democrats are very energized. Will this decision make them more energized? Also, will Republicans get more energized around this? Republican voters usually care more about the Supreme Court, although the voters who care about the court are usually the most activist voters anyway. It's hard to imagine that some of them wouldn't already have been turning out for Republican candidates. But the big question is, will Democrats start caring about the court the way Republicans have? Republicans are 360-degree voters. They turn out every two years instead of every four. They care about the court. Will that change now? Will Democrats start voting that way, too?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: We'll have to see. That was NPR's Mara Liasson. Thank you.
LIASSON: Thank you.
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