Whenever Ted Kennedy says it’s about civil rights, whenever Robert Byrd says it’s about Senate tradition, whenever Dianne Feinstein says it’s about consumer rights, whenever Harry Reid or Chuck Schumer make their nasty personal attacks on the President and his nominees, it’s really all about the same thing: Abortion.
The rhetoric on and about the Senate floor at the moment touches on many issues. Some of it has to do with the jurisprudence of Bush’s nominees. Most of it has to do with Senate rules and tradition. On that score, both sides accuse the other of hypocrisy.
Republicans employed all sorts of dilatory tactics to keep some of Bill Clinton’s nominees off of the federal bench. Democrats decried this at the time.
For example, Senator Pat Leahy, now at the forefront of denying Bush’s nominees up-or-down votes, said back in 1998:
“I have stated over and over again on this floor that I would refuse to put an anonymous hold on any judge; that I would object and fight against any filibuster on a judge, whether it is somebody I opposed or supported; that I felt the Senate should do its duty. If we don’t like somebody the President nominates, vote him or her down.”
Similarly, Barbara Boxer said in 1997:
“According to the U.S. Constitution, the President nominates, and the Senate shall provide advice and consent. It is not the role of the Senate to obstruct the process and prevent numbers of highly qualified nominees from even being given the opportunity for a vote on the Senate floor.”
But there is no inconsistency here. There may be dishonesty, but the Democrats have never changed their aim and their goal: preserving abortion on demand by judicial fiat.
The Democrats are willing to go to unprecedented lengths to derail President Bush’s judicial nominations because they need to save Roe v. Wade. Without Roe, the issue of abortion would be left to the democratic process, which is something the patrons of the Democratic Party cannot allow.
Let’s begin by following the money. According to OpenSecrets.org, the website of the Center for Responsive Politics, the most generous of all the single-issue PACs in the 2004 cycle was EMILY’s List, which gives only to pro-choice woman candidates, and only to Democrats.
EMILY’s List spent $3.4 million in the most recent election. That’s just about three times what the NRA spent. Planned Parenthood and NARAL together spent over $1 million to elect Democrats in the 2004 election.
Compare this $4.5 million to the money that comes in on other issues. On the environment, the top three groups gave just $700,000 to Democrats. Gun Control yielded less than $100,000.
When John Kerry’s campaign created a special task force on judges, he named Kate Michelman, President of NARAL, to head the task force. The first time all of the Democratic presidential hopefuls gathered on one stage in the last election was for a NARAL gala, at which Michelman told the Democrats:
“When President Bush sends a Supreme Court nominee to the Senate for confirmation, I fully expect pro-choice senators to filibuster any candidate who does not uphold a woman’s constitutional right to choose.”
She who pays the piper calls the tune.
For NARAL, EMILY’s List, and Planned Parenthood, the epicenter of their war to keep abortion legal is the Supreme Court. Without Roe v. Wade–which found lurking in the “penumbras” and “emanations” of the Constitution a fundamental right to perform or procure an abortion up until the moment of birth–abortion law would be set on a state-by-state basis by the people and their elected representatives.
Some states might legalize abortion on demand, but others would outlaw the procedure in most cases. It is clear that near-universal legal access to abortion would not exist without Roe.
It is also clear that Roe would not exist without liberal judges who are willing to do jurisprudential gymnastics to preserve it. Prominent pro-choice legal scholars, including Alan Dershowitz, have admitted that Roe was wrongly decided.
So the abortion lobby needs liberal activist judges. The Democratic Party needs the abortion lobby. It’s no wonder Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid are willing to reduce the Senate to a state of war over judges.
A look at the ten judges who have been filibustered shows a common thread: they are all pro-life, and they are all possible future Supreme Court nominees (which is why women and minorities are more likely to be filibustered than white males). In other words, they are all threats to Roe.
Republicans don’t have the same financial dependence on the pro-lifers. Pro-life groups gave only $650,000 total to the GOP in 2004. But the most recent election showed that the Republicans can’t win without the anti-abortion vote.
Not guns, nor the environment, nor war divide the parties as clearly as does abortion, though neither party likes talking about the issue. In this most bitter battle raging on the Senate floor, the Democrats may talk about Senate rules, the Republicans may talk about Senate precedent, but the true stakes of the struggle rarely is mentioned: will Roe v. Wade stand?
Tim Carney is a Phillips Fellow and a free-lance journalist in Washington, D.C.