Inside HRC’s Fight to Stop Brett Kavanaugh

With the balance of the Supreme Court at stake, can the effort to replace "swing vote" Justice Kennedy with right-leaning Kavanaugh be stopped?

If President Donald Trump gets his way, Brett Kavanaugh will become his second successful nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court before the midterm elections in November. The Human Rights Campaign is doing everything it can to see that doesn’t happen, warning of the danger of replacing outgoing, “swing vote” moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy with a judge it argues is anything but a centrist.

In fact, there are concerns Kavanaugh could be even worse than Trump’s recent appointee Justice Neil Gorsuch for the march towards progress on social issues, with everything from healthcare, to women’s reproductive rights, to LGBTQ rights on the table.

brett kavanaugh mcconnell pence
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/POOL
From left, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kavanaugh, and Vice President Mike Pence meet in McConnell’s office in the Capitol on Tuesday, July 10, 2018, the day after President Donald Trump nominated Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

HRC has released a detailed report outlining Kavanaugh’s past, as well as produced videos further illuminating his background, and what a Justice Kavanaugh might look like.

The most recent of these, offered exclusively to NewNowNext to debut, features transgender woman Lillian talking about what is at stake for herself, and other LGBTQ Americans, if the Affordable Care Act is weakened or destroyed.

The video, which follows, notes that if the ACA is dismantled, transgender people could once again have difficulty gaining approval for transition related care, and those living with HIV could once again face being denied coverage for having a “preexisting condition.”

 

HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow spoke with NewNowNext to outline the group’s efforts to wave the warning flag about this nomination.

This latest video addressing Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination is the third one HRC has put out. Tell us about how this video, and those that came before it, are part of the efforts to bring attention to his record.

We’ve done a number of different types of videos that are geared toward educating the public about different facets of the problem with Brett Kavanaugh being nominated to the Supreme Court. So, we’ve worked out, for example, the challenges with the failure to release records from his time working in the White House.

 

We’ve done educational videos about what’s at stake for the LGBTQ community and the Supreme Court in the coming years.

 

The most recent video (“Lillian”) really does two things: It hopefully humanizes for people what the direct impact of someone like Brett Kavanaugh being nominated to the Supreme Court would be. The individual in the story was really explaining how not having access to the Affordable Care Act would be harmful as a trans person, in terms of accessing transition related care, but then also more generally about what it means to lose access to affordable health insurance.

We’ve chosen individuals from all corners of this country who can speak directly to the issues, so people can understand this isn’t an inside-the-beltway issue, this is an issue that impacts all Americans.

In addition to the videos, can you tell us more about what other initiatives HRC is taking regarding Kavanaugh’s nomination?

We’re doing a lot of educational work in addition to the videos. We released a report about Brett Kavanaugh, his record, what’s at risk for the LGBTQ community, as well as the types of organizations and individuals who have endorsed him, and what their viewpoints are on LGBTQ issues.

We know that (conservative think tank) Heritage, who pre-vetted the list that President Trump selected from, has long been hostile to the LGBTQ community, and is actively working to undermine basic civil rights for the LGBTQ community.

We’re also educating senators on this issue. Our government affairs team has been on the hill doing that educational work. We will certainly submit testimony for the hearing to further probe those issues, and help to continue to educate the senators as well.

We’re also working with our membership across the country, to remind them that their senators need to hear from them. It’s not enough just to sit at your kitchen table and be worried about these issues. If you’re genuinely concerned about Brett Kavanaugh becoming a Supreme Court justice, and every LGBTQ American should be, then they need to be calling and weighing in with their senators. Their senators care and want to hear from them.

What would you say to people who might be skeptical that Kavanaugh can be stopped, in light of Justice Neil Gorsuch getting through the nomination process, as well as Republicans controlling the Senate, at least at this point? Why is it still important for people to reach out to their senators?

Look, every single Supreme Court nominee is important, and it’s important to make your voice heard on every nominee. We’ve seen the record that Justice Gorsuch has developed in his very short time on the Supreme Court, voting against the interests of LGBTQ people; including some outright hostility to LGBTQ people, when you look at cases like Pavan v. Smith. (Editor’s Note: Gorsuch wrote the dissenting opinion after the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex parents should have both of their names listed on birth certificates, citing Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.)

Neil Gorsuch swearing in
Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Trump watches as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy administers the judicial oath to Gorsuch during a swearing-in ceremony.

What, I think, is different about this particular nomination, is the perception that the balance of the court is at stake is hopefully causing senators to take this even more seriously. Justice Gorsuch was replacing Justice (Antonin) Scalia. Justice Gorsuch is to the right of Justice Scalia, as his rulings have already proven, but that was already a seat that people perceived to be a conservative vote.

Justice Anthony Kennedy on many issues critical to civil rights, for not only LGBTQ people but across the spectrum, often voted to uphold civil rights laws and to affirm civil rights for Americans. So replacing Justice Kennedy with a justice who is far to the right of where he has been, I hope creates some alarm bells in Congress. And I do think we’re already seeing swing senators taking a closer look at this particular nomination, and expressing their reservations in ways that perhaps they were not with Justice Gorsuch.

What should people who want to stop the Kavanaugh nomination, as well as save the ACA, be doing?

It’s two-fold: They should be contacting their senators about the importance of the Supreme Court nomination. But they should also be contacting all of their congresspeople, their senators, the member of Congress whose district they are in, and expressing the importance of access to affordable healthcare; and why the Affordable Care Act has made a difference in their lives, or the lives of their loved ones. Because Congress needs to know, and hear from their constituents about how valuable and important the ACA is.

What else should people be thinking about concerning Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court?

There is so much at stake for the LGBTQ community. The Affordable Care Act is a critical piece of that, but there are other cases coming down the pike as well. Everything from whether or not our federal civil rights laws do provide protections to LGBTQ people, whether or not trans people can serve openly in our military, whether or not LGBTQ people are entitled to the full protections of family law.

And so, this is a moment in time where there could be such a significant shift in the protections that are available to LGBTQ people, and there’s just so much on the line.

Journalist, editor, and artist.