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Perspective: The long road to overturning Roe

The Supreme Court is getting all of the credit and blame, but we can trace the history of the Dobbs decision back to President George W. Bush

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President Donald Trump and Amy Coney Barrett stand together after Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas administered the constitutional oath to her.

President Donald Trump and Amy Coney Barrett stand on the Blue Room Balcony after Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas administered the constitutional oath to her at the White House in Washington, Oct. 26, 2020.

Patrick Semansky, Associated Press

The Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade is a momentous event in the history of our nation and in the lives of all who have worked for the rights of the unborn. It would not have happened if President Donald Trump hadn’t spent four pivotal years in the White House.

Trump campaigned on the promise to defend unborn life and to appoint judges who would uphold the Constitution, and he kept those promises.

Moreover, Pew Research found that 65% of voters in 2016 said the Supreme Court was a very important factor in their vote. Of those people, most voted for Trump, as Statista Research confirmed.

As abortion opponents celebrate the Dobbs decision — which corrected what seven justices did in 1973 when they invented a right to abortion in our Constitution — they should remember the other people who were instrumental in the decisions issued June 24.

Trump was able to nominate those justices because of the work of lawmakers who, like him, wanted judges who realize that the courts cannot “substitute their social and economic beliefs for the judgment of legislative bodies.” (See Dobbs, page 7, quoting Ferguson v. Skrupa.)

President George W. Bush, inaugurated in 2001 and reelected in 2004, was also essential in reaching this goal. In 2005, he nominated Chief Justice John Roberts, who was part of the Dobbs majority in upholding Mississippi’s law.

And in the following year, Bush nominated Justice Samuel Alito, who authored the Dobbs decision.

In 2016, the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia opened the possibility that President Barack Obama would be able to nominate a third justice, after having chosen Sonia Sotomayor in 2009 and Elena Kagan in 2010. 

But just 10 days after Scalia’s death, every Republican member of the Senate Judiciary signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, announcing their intention to withhold consent on any nominee submitted by Obama. The committee also said it would not hold hearings until the next president was sworn in.

While this was a controversial move, it was consequential.

When Obama nominated Merrick Garland a month later, McConnell let him know he would not be scheduling a vote on the nominee, and the Supreme Court opened its 2016-2017 term with eight justices. (Garland is now the attorney general under Joe Biden and has vowed to preserve the right to abortion pills, saying, “We stand ready to work with other arms of the federal government that seek to use their lawful authorities to protect and preserve access to reproductive care.”)

On Jan. 31, 11 days after his inauguration, Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. At that point, another critical step was taken: the Senate Republicans voted to do away with the filibuster on Supreme Court judicial nominations. 

As a result, Gorsuch was confirmed by a vote of 54-45, with three Democrats voting for him. 

After Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement at the end of the 2016-2017 term, Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh, then a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Make no mistake: The ensuing controversy was about charges of sexual assault, but it was also about abortion; advocates and activists recognized the threat that another conservative justice would represent to Roe v. Wade.  Kavanaugh was eventually confirmed by a vote of 50-48.

Finally, after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death on Sept. 18, 2020, caught the nation by surprise, Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett, a judge from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Her confirmation by the Senate on Oct. 26, with every Democrat voting against her, solidified not only the conservative majority on the court but also Trump’s influence on our nation for decades to come.

Trump certainly has his fans and his opponents, not only within the nation but within the GOP. But you don’t have to be a Trump supporter to appreciate what he has done for the nation and the unborn. So along with so many who have worked tirelessly for an end to Roe v. Wade, I say to President Trump, President Bush and to all who laid the groundwork and did the hard work: Thank you for making June 24, 2022, possible.

The Rev. Frank Pavone is national director of Priests for Life and was national co-chairman of Pro-Life Voices for Trump.