Jan 27, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court pick could be a potential lifeline for Dems

Illustration of scales of justice with a Supreme Court chair weighing one side down
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The chance to propel a historic pick onto the Supreme Court is a potential lifeline to the Democratic Party, not because it will shift the high court's ideological balance but because it will shift the nation's political conversation, Axios is told.

Why it matters: Democrats were smarting from political losses in Congress, the president's abysmal approval ratings and a potential Supreme Court vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. They also face the specter of significant midterm losses.

  • Now, they get to talk about the importance of the court itself, as well as preserving abortion rights, the leaders of women's groups say.
  • The party and its supporters also are poised to celebrate the first Black woman on the court, a campaign pledge President Biden intends to keep, the White House press secretary said Wednesday.

What they're saying: "We’ve been anticipating a tough fight and, frankly, a significant loss at the Supreme Court," NARAL president Mini Timmaraju told Axios in an interview.

  • "But being able to have a win on this nomination and support the president’s pledge to nominate a Black woman Supreme Court justice is the kind of motivation we need right now to keep up the fight."
  • Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said, "The stakes for this election are as high as they can be. I think a court vacancy will demonstrate to voters why it’s so important to keep a Senate majority committed to health care access."

Jessica Floyd, president of American Bridge PAC, said the impending Supreme Court nomination and confirmation process will also show voters the contrast between the Democratic and Republican parties.

  • "It's a great reminder that they haven't been focused on the economy," Floyd said of the Republicans. "They've been focused on things like taking away a woman's right to choose and packing the Supreme Court in order to do that."
  • Laphonza Butler, president of EMILY's List, said the confirmation process will give Americans a chance to get to know the new justice and feel reengaged in the political process.
  • "This is going to be an opportunity that really draws their attention in and helps them think about how they want to show up in this election and elect more Democrats," Butler said.

Between the lines: Republicans have benefited at the polls from past fights over the courts.

  • According to 2016 exit polls from CNN, people who said the Supreme Court was the most important factor in their vote supported Donald Trump (56%) over Hillary Clinton (41%).
  • Today, Biden's approval is at 41%, according to the latest Pew Research survey.
  • Americans' approval of the Democratically controlled Congress also has sunk to 18%, per Gallup.

The backdrop: These women's groups' leaders cite polling that shows Americans support Roe/abortion rights.

They argue Republicans haven't found a winning narrative on the issue for that reason.

  • Abortion already was poised to play some role in the midterms.
  • The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision in June on a Mississippi abortion case seeking to overturn its guarantees.
  • The leaders say it's impossible to decouple the decision from the elections just months later, given the timing.

Be smart: The 2018 midterms came amid the fight over Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination.

  • Polls found voters had started prioritizing the courts alongside the economy and health care as their top election issues.
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