WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed a slew of judicial nominees and passed a budget deal this week, drawing praise from pro-lifers.
“We’d heard that our Democratic colleagues across the Capitol were clamoring to take us backwards on the issue of life, perhaps even targeting the Hyde amendment or forcing more taxpayer dollars back toward Planned Parenthood,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., stated on the Senate Floor on Thursday.
However, the White House scored a “win” on the life issue and on keeping funding for border security, McConnell said.
In addition to confirming over a dozen judicial nominees and a new United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft, the Senate also passed the Bipartisan Budget Act, sending the legislation to the President’s desk. The budget deal to raise the debt ceiling was the fruit of negotiations between President Trump and congressional leaders.
The deal was hailed by the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List as a “major victory for life,” because it contained no pro-abortion “poison pill” riders—amendments that would undo existing protections against taxpayer funding of abortions, such as the Hyde Amendment. Furthermore, the deal mandated that no such riders could be attached to spending bills in the next two years without the consent of the President and leaders of both chambers of Congress.
“We urge Republicans to be vigilant in holding Speaker Pelosi accountable to this groundbreaking deal,” SBA List president Marjorie Dannenfelser stated.
McConnell requested “that the terms of this agreement -- and the specific prohibition of poison pills -- be included in the record.”
Twenty-eight senators voted against the budget deal because it would add to the national debt; Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said that under the deal, debt would become 97 percent of the U.S. GDP.
As the Senate rushed to finish its work before taking a recess in August, there was also the work of confirming judicial nominees to the federal courts. Among the nominees confirmed this week were several whom Planned Parenthood criticized for their alleged opposition to abortion.
Planned Parenthood said that William Shaw Stickman IV, nominated for the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Pennsylvania, “staunchly opposes safe, legal abortion.”
Jeffrey Brown, tapped to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, has been “hostile toward access to reproductive health care and safe, legal abortion,” Planned Parenthood said, and “has given public praise to the dissenting opinions in Roe v. Wade.”
The “public praise” that Planned Parenthood referenced was a tweet of Brown’s on the anniversary of Roe that quoted from the dissent of Justice Byron White, as well as Brown’s praise of Justice William Rehnquist’s dissent.
Both Stickman, listed as a candidate of the Order of Malta, Federal Association, in his nominee questionnaire, and Brown faced questions from Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee about their views on the law regarding abortion and same-sex marriage; both candidates replied that they would uphold Supreme Court precedent that found rights to abortion and same-sex marriage in Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and Obergefell v. Hodges.
“For a district court, all Supreme Court precedent is superprecedent in that it is binding on all district courts. If confirmed, I would fully and faithfully apply Roe and its progeny,” Stickman stated in response to a question from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). Brown responded to the same question from Feinstein that he would also uphold Roe as the law of the land, as well as Obergefell.
“If confirmed, I will faithfully apply Obergefell,” Stickman said in response to Feinstein’s question on Obergefell.
Both nominees were also pressed by Feinstein on whether corporations may claim religious freedom rights under the First Amendment. In 2014, the Supreme Court said that Hobby Lobby, as a “closely-held corporation” with its owners posing religious objections to the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate, did not have to comply with the mandate.
Stickman said that corporations could make their case in court under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—the law that Hobby Lobby appealed to—but that the Court did not decide their right to “assert a claim under the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.”
Brown, for his part, said that he would be “bound” by the Hobby Lobby decision and that the question of corporations invoking religious freedom claims involved pending litigation and it would be “inappropriate for me to comment further.”
Responding to questions from Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., Brown said that there was a “right to privacy” under the Constitution that “protects” rights to use contraceptives and obtain abortions.
Brown was also asked about an endorsement his campaign received from Texas Right to Life PAC when he ran for the Texas Supreme Court. He responded that judges in Texas run on “partisan elections” and that as a federal judge he would not participate in any political activity.