Supreme Court Nominee Kavanaugh in the Crosshairs

Christians hope for a justice who will uphold religious liberty

The time has come. The reason many evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in 2016 was the knowledge that the next president would have the opportunity to nominate one or more justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. After years of seeing immorality celebrated and religious liberty eroded by a liberal administration, many simply could not tolerate the thought of Hillary Clinton being the one to make those crucial nominations.

Now, with Justice Neil Gorsuch already in place on the court, President Trump has made his second nomination, following the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy.

The nominee, D.C. Court of Appeals Judge Brett Kavanaugh, now stands in the crosshairs of what many observers believe is the most significant high court vacancy in decades. Almost immediately, he was barraged from the Left in advance of what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised will be a confirmation vote by Oct. 1.

“Judge Kavanaugh was hand-picked from a list of radical nominees with strong support for dismantling a woman’s right to choose,” claimed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “A vote for Judge Kavanaugh is a vote to destroy Roe v. Wade.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he would oppose Kavanaugh “with everything I’ve got.” Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) added: “We must mobilize the American people to defeat Trump’s right-wing, reactionary nominee.” Left-wing groups from Planned Parenthood to Greenpeace to the homosexual advocacy group Human Rights Campaign joined the opposition chorus, with dire predictions regarding abortion, transgender, homosexual and environmental issues.

Progressive groups used loaded language to portray Kavanaugh’s nomination as part of a heinous plot. One group claimed that under Donald Trump, the justice system is being “corrupted to … impose a far-right social agenda on our everyday lives.” Another said that conservatives want to “turn back the clock for their own ideological reasons and destabilize a consistent ethic of the law.”

At the opposite end of the political spectrum, some conservatives expressed concern about decisions Kavanaugh made on the D.C. Court of Appeals that seemed to concede a right to abortion in some cases and also about an opinion that provided the legal reasoning Chief Justice John Roberts later used to declare Obamacare constitutional. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), prior to endorsing Kavanuagh, had expressed concern that Kavanaugh might be willing to sacrifice privacy rights for the sake of national security.

The American Family Association initially opposed the nomination but later said that while it would not endorse him, it would not fight the nomination.

Still, most pro-life and other conservative groups were overwhelmingly positive about Kavanaugh. Religious liberty champions supporting his nomination include the American Center for Law and Justice, First Liberty, Liberty Counsel and the National Center for Life and Liberty. Some of those organizations have battled for years at the high court on cases ranging from religious expression in schools to pro-life demonstrations.

Support has also come from Christian organizations, including the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, Focus on the Family, the Colson Center for Worldview and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Michael Farris, president of the religious liberty law firm Alliance Defending Freedom, said that while his organization does not take positions on the merits of Supreme Court nominees, he is hopeful that Kavanaugh shares a commitment to “interpret the Constitution faithfully and according to the intent of the founders who wrote it. … Respecting the Constitution in this way is essential to protect our precious freedoms, including our first freedom—the right to peacefully live and work consistently with one’s religious beliefs.”

The filling of any Supreme Court vacancy is hugely significant, as the nation places ultimate judicial authority in the hands of nine individuals. “This person is being entrusted with a major decisional authority for the rest of their life,” said David C. Gibbs III of the National Center for Life and Liberty. “The hope is that they would honor that public trust and recognize that [their service] can literally reshape the face of the nation.”

Gibbs noted that with a lifetime appointment, there is no guarantee that a Supreme Court justice will maintain his or her current judicial philosophy over time. And a justice could, like Anthony Kennedy, vote with the court’s conservative bloc on some issues and its liberal bloc on others.

“I am hopeful that if confirmed, Justice Kavanaugh would be someone who would look to limit the authority of the government,” Gibbs said. “I also would hope that in limiting the government, he would be looking to read the Constitution literally, which is how the founders intended.”

Kavanaugh’s record is extensive, both in his judicial opinions and in other venues. Last year, in a lecture to the American Enterprise Institute, Kavanaugh praised former Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s efforts to correct the idea of a “strict wall of separation between church and state.” By convincing the court that the wall metaphor was a product of both bad law and bad history, Rehnquist was able to ensure that “religious schools and religious institutions could participate as equals in society and in state benefit programs,” Kavanaugh said.

That approach certainly resonates with evangelicals.

“The Constitution was a contract between the government and the people,” Gibbs explained. “What the government was saying is, ‘We will not cross over into your realm.’ That’s why the First Amendment protects speech, press and religion. It was made clear that these are areas the government should stay out of. So, the hope would be that Kavanaugh, if confirmed to the Supreme Court, would be true to those principles.”