Candidates know that voter turnout is the key to winning midterm elections.
What’s less certain is knowing exactly what will bring people out to the polls. Identifying the strongest voter motivation is an especially crucial issue for Democrats, who typically see lower voter turnout percentages than Republicans.
This week brings a new element to that crucial question, as President Trump announced Judge Brett Kavanaugh as his pick for the Supreme Court vacancy left by retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy has been the swing vote on many of the court’s liberal rulings, including ones on abortion and LGBT rights. His replacement could have a generations-long impact on the court and country, and Kavanaugh is seen by many as being as conservative as they come.
Progressive advocates are already warning a Kavanaugh confirmation could set in motion the undoing of Roe v. Wade. They are pushing for the Senate to reject him on the basis of “protecting individual liberties”.
Some Democrats are also warning that Kavenaugh is a uniquely inappropriate selection given the multiple investigations into Trump and his administration.
“The fact that Judge Kavanaugh has a long-established view that a President should not be subject to civil litigation or criminal investigation while in office means that President Trump has just nominated a justice who has already reached conclusions on these serious questions,” said New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker in a statement. “That should raise enormous red flags.”
“The President nominated Judge Kavanaugh who believes that presidents are above the law…is anyone surprised?” Nevada Rep. Dina Titus tweeted Monday night.
On the flipside, conservatives are reminding their base of the need to “protect the Constitution.”
Nobody seems to be paying more attention than Republican Sen. Dean Heller, who is facing a formidable Democratic challenger in Rep. Jacky Rosen. Earlier this year, Politico obtained audio of Heller predicting Kennedy’s retirement and noting that it could rally his base for him. Since then, he has used the possibility of nominating a Supreme Court justice as a campaign talking point. Now that his prediction has come true, he and his campaign are doubling down.
In his official statement regarding the nomination, Heller noted he was physically at the White House for the president’s announcement and praised Kavanaugh for having “demonstrated a commitment to interpreting the law — not making it.” His campaign also sent out a poll asking people whether they supported the Trump selection.
It’s a move from a political playbook that proved successful for Trump in 2016. During exit interviews, 26 percent of Trump voters identified the potential for nominating Supreme Court justices as the most important factor in their vote. Only 18 percent of Hillary Clinton voters did. Analysis of Google search trends during the election cycle also suggested a greater interest in the court from conservatives.
But those on the left argue that a lot has changed since 2016. Nationally, Democrats are outpacing Republicans in voter registration and have had notable victories in special elections.
Now, they are hoping the Supreme Court vacancy will act as another boost for their base, particularly for female voters who are riding a #MeToo wave of political engagement and participation. Helping their case is Nevada’s track record on abortion rights.
Planned Parenthood Executive Director Lindsey Harmon points to Republican Joe Heck, who lost the U.S. Senate race to Catherine Cortez Masto in 2016. Harmon believes Heck’s stance on abortion cost him the election. She also believes opposing abortion rights will hurt Heller and Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt, who like Heller has gleefully aligned himself with Trump.
“With over 60 percent supporting (abortion rights in Nevada) we know there are Republican women who are supportive of our issues,” says Harmon. “This is an issue about individual liberties and having a right to your personal body. There are Republicans who see that.”
The figure Harmon refers to is 63.5 percent — that’s the percentage of Nevada voters who voted ‘yes’ on the 1990 ballot question that codified the right to an abortion within the first 24 weeks. Today, that vote would keep abortion legal in the state even if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
While both political parties will no doubt attempt to capitalize on the Supreme Court vacancy, they will have to do so while simultaneously watching their countdown to November. Time may or may not be on their side, says UNLV political science professor David Damore.
“What will be interesting is the timing of it all,” he said via email. “If the new justice is nominated and confirmed during the summer that could give Republicans who are not enamored with Heller a reason to stay home, while giving Democrats a salient reason to elect more Democrats in order to oppose future Trump judicial and executive branch nominees.”
In 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell successfully blocked a vote on Merrick Garland, the Supreme Court nominee chosen by then-President Obama, on the grounds that a major decision shouldn’t be made during an election year. That led to Trump nominating conservative Neil Gorsuch to the court within his first 100 days in office.
Democrats don’t have the numbers to pull off the same stunt and they may have to pin their hopes on convincing one or two moderate Republicans to vote against her party. But advocates both nationally and locally are pledging to fight the Kavanaugh nomination.
FULL REACTION STATEMENTS ON KAVANAUGH NOMINATION
Republican Sen. Dean Heller’s statement:
“Tonight, I had the opportunity to join my colleagues at the White House for the President’s announcement that he has nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill the upcoming vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. Judge Kavanaugh has a record of adherence to the Constitution and has demonstrated a commitment to interpreting the law – not making it. I expect the U.S. Senate to conduct a fair, thorough confirmation process, and I look forward to meeting with the nominee.”
Heller’s Democratic challenger, Rep. Jacky Rosen’s statement:
“If the Senate gets this wrong, it could jeopardize Roe v. Wade, undermine health care access, threaten workers’ rights, put LGBTQ equality and civil rights at risk, perpetuate the damage of big money in our political system, and so much more. Based on President’s Trump’s own statements, it’s critical the next Supreme Court justice affirm their belief that the Constitution protects individual liberties – including reproductive rights. I have serious reservations about whether Judge Kavanaugh will meet that standard. Nevadans will be watching closely to see whether Sen. Heller will be an independent voice who will ask these tough questions, or if he will once again bend to his party leaders and rubber stamp another nominee from President Trump.”
Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s statement:
“President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court will hold immense power over the most critical issues facing our nation, including a woman’s right to choose, protection for those with preexisting conditions, LGBTQ rights, money in politics, and workers’ rights. We need a Justice who respects the rights and freedoms enshrined in our Constitution, not someone who is beholden to special interest groups. I plan to meet with Judge Kavanaugh in the coming months and will review his qualifications thoroughly.”
Democratic Rep. Dina Titus’ statement:
”President Trump has nominated numerous judges who push his radical agenda of attacking women, attacking unions, attacking immigrants, attacking the environment, attacking voting rights, attacking LGBTQ rights; the list goes on and on. The nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh follows this dangerous trend. Judge Kavanaugh has a record of inserting his personal politics into court decisions claiming to believe in upholding Roe v. Wade yet repeatedly ruling for restrictions on abortion rights. In addition, Judge Kavanaugh has a long record opposing protections for clean air and addressing global climate change. This review by the United States Senate should be thorough and not rushed to appease the visitors to the President’s golf clubs, hotels, and beach resorts.”
Republican gubernatorial candidate, Attorney General Adam Laxalt:
“I applaud the President’s nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to serve on our Nation’s highest court. Judge Kavanaugh has demonstrated a steadfast commitment to the rule of law in reading the constitution according to its original meaning, rather than reinterpreting our constitution according to his own personal preferences. That is the proper role of judges, and the only way to depoliticize our third branch of government. I encourage the Senate to fairly and expeditiously confirm Judge Kavanaugh.”
Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak has not issued a statement on the Kavanaugh nomination, though he is expected to speak at a press event outside Heller’s office Tuesday morning.
Democratic candidate for attorney general and State Sen. Majority Leader Aaron Ford’s statement:
“The United States Supreme Court holds the sacred responsibility of safeguarding our Constitution and our most basic rights. Recently, those rights have been under attack, from civil rights, voting rights, the right to bargain collectively, women’s rights, and a myriad of other liberties protected by our nation’s laws.
Unfortunately for Nevada, President Trump is intent on nominating a justice who represents a threat to those rights including a willingness to overturn Roe v. Wade. By nominating Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Trump threatens all women’s constitutional right to choose — a right supported by the majority of Nevadans and enshrined in decades of settled judicial precedent. Nevadans deserve a Supreme Court justice who will apply the law fairly and will protect the well-established rights of all Americans, not someone who brings a political or partisan bias to the bench. As Nevada Attorney General, I will fiercely defend our constitutional rights, including a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions, to the right to vote and our civil rights.”
Several activist groups and politicians joined the Nevadans for Judicial Progress Coalition in a press conference Monday in response to the Kavanuagh nomination:
Laura Packard, co-chair of Health Care Voter:
“My name is Laura Packard and a little over a year ago I was diagnosed with stage-4 cancer but I am still here because the Affordable Care Act saved my life. This Supreme Court pick is not just a person in a building in Washington D.C, one in four Americans have a preexisting condition. I remember what it was like before the Affordable Care Act when we could not get insurance. I am profoundly lucky that I was diagnosed last year when I did have insurance because my cancer is in remission and that’s thanks to the treatment I was only able to afford thanks to the Affordable Care Act.”
“I hope that both our senators will thoroughly question him on what he thinks about the Affordable Care Act and whether he thinks we have the constitutional right to be able to have health insurance because millions of lives, including mine, depend on it.”
Tod Story, executive director of ACLU Nevada:
“Whether it is that you take for granted a woman’s right to choose. Whether it is you take for granted employment non-discrimination, whether you take for granted public accommodations in the state of Nevada, whether you take for granted voting rights, and the civil rights and the civil liberties you enjoy as Nevadans, we all have to ask ourselves what is at stake? … Supreme Court Justice Kennedy was the swing vote in so many issues that we have taken for granted, that we have come to enjoy as Nevadans as Americans across this country what lies before us in the future with this nominee? So if you care about these issues I implore you to reach out to your U.S Senators here in Nevada and tell them this issue is too important to me as an individual, to my family to let it go into effect to have this nominee not respond to very specific questions and be vetted thoroughly.”
Maria Segera, activist and volunteer with Mi Familia Vota:
“I’m here to talk about the DACA recipients and also our Latino community. Right now we know that DACA recipients, immigrants and undocumented peoples lives are at risk. I personally know what crossing the border is like because I did crossed the border when I was four. I know what that means and I know what that feel like. When I crossed the border and did see my dad for four years, that wasn’t the hardest part … the hardest part is now we have to fight for our lives. Fight for our rights, because that is being taken away from us and now that we have a new Supreme Court justice being nominated I truly hope and I truly pray that he does take into consideration that we do work hard every single day of our lives and that we’re also here helping our community because we did build the floors that we stand on and we don’t think it’s right for people to take that away from us.”
“I hope he sees what these students and these people are fighting for and this is directly to him: I hope that he sees that these families and these students we do work and are not criminals and that he just has an open mind and he’s fair minded and he doesn’t follow the path of Trump because if he does then our lives are seriously danger.”
Andy Maggi, Executive Director of the Nevada Conservation League:
“President Trump has already nominated many extremists and anti-environmental individuals to federal judgeships, threatening both bedrock environmental protections and democratic institutions. And now with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, threats to those fundamental protections for our health our environment and our democracy grow greater. Kavanaugh has routinely ruled against environmental protections. He struck down environmental protections under the Clean Air Act. He’s opposed efforts to fight climate change and stood against protections for clean water. When Kavanaugh was on the D.C circuit he earned a reputation for working to thwart the Obama administration on climate change and he’s routinely supported polluters over people. Several Trump Administration nominees share the extreme view that the very existence of federal agencies is constitutionally suspect and agencies like the EPA are illegitimate. Kavanaugh is no different. He’s expressed concerns that federal administrative agencies have become too powerful. If these agencies can’t limit actions they would effectively be handing over the reigns of government to corporations and return us to the days of robber barons and burning rivers.”
Jeniffer Solis contributed to this story.