The Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings this week on two controversial appeals court nominees, Amy Barrett and Joan Larsen. At one point, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island asked Larsen about the substantial support her nomination has received from the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), a group that works to push through judicial nominations in Republican administrations and block them in Democratic ones.
JCN spent $140,000 on an ad buy in Larsen’s home state of Michigan pressuring the state’s Democratic senators, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, to return procedural “blue slips” allowing Larsen’s nomination to move forward; both senators did so in August. JCN has also coordinated a network of conservative groups to pressure Democratic senators to push through Trump’s judicial nominees and just yesterday helped lead “dozens of ladies” from Concerned Women for America to lobby senators on judicial nominations.
Whitehouse asked Larsen what JCN thinks “they’re going to get for their investment” in pushing through her nomination: “I’m suggesting that there are big political interests that are powerful enough to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to try to influence public opinion in your favor, and my question is, what do they want for their return on investment?”
Larsen responded that her votes on the Michigan Supreme Court have come out “about 50-50” when an individual goes up against a corporation, “so if anybody thinks that they are buying something in terms of commercial interests, I don’t think my record bears that out.”
One return that JCN and its backers could be hoping for is federal judges who will further undermine the protections of Roe v. Wade.
In an appearance last weekend on EWTN’s “Pro-Life Weekly,” which the Catholic news network produces in conjunction with the anti-choice group Susan B. Anthony, JCN’s chief counsel, Carrie Severino, discussed what host Catherine Szeltner called the importance of filling out “all the judicial nominations at all levels within the U.S. for the pro-life cause.”
Severino said that what they were looking for were federal judges who will “uphold the Constitution and uphold the laws of the country,” but “luckily for us the Constitution actually doesn’t require abortion” so such judges are in “many cases going to come out with pro-life results.”
Severino laughably lamented the “really shocking” number of vacancies that the federal judiciary is facing under Trump, telling Szeltner that Trump “started office with 105 vacancies—that’s more than four out of five than his predecessors had.” Trump started his presidency with that many vacancies because of Senate Republicans’ efforts to stop President Obama from filling them; the JCN itself was the driving force behind the campaign to prevent Obama from naming a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Severino suggested that Democrats were particularly opposed to Barrett and Larsen because “they hate the idea of really principled, really qualified, conservative female jurists on the courts because that puts the lie to some of their identity politics and they know these are people in line for the Supreme Court one day.”
She told Szeltner that Trump will “very likely” have another seat to fill on the Supreme Court and “I would be thrilled to have that happen because I’m just so happy with Justice Gorsuch and the quality of that nomination that I think it would be a wonderful thing to have more nominees in that line.”
Here is Sen. Whitehouse’s questioning of Larsen on her support from JCN: