WASHINGTON (BP) – Southern Baptist and other evangelical Christian leaders embraced President Trump's nomination of federal appeals court judge Brett Kavanaugh July 9 and called for his quick confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Trump announced his selection of Kavanaugh 53 Monday night from the White House ending speculation on who would be chosen from a list of 25 potential nominees – all considered conservatives – that the administration had released in November in anticipation of the next open seat on the high court. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the Supreme Court on its final day of the term June 27.
In his first 18 months in the White House Trump already has had the opportunity to make two nominations to the high court. He nominated Neil Gorsuch in January 2017 and the U.S. Senate confirmed the federal appeals court judge in a 54-45 vote.
The nomination of Kavanaugh a judge on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals immediately set in motion an impassioned effort by abortion and gay rights advocates as well as some Democrats in the Senate to prevent his confirmation. Meanwhile conservative support for the nomination appeared strong though not unanimous for a nominee who has a reputation of seeking to interpret the Constitution and laws based on its original meaning and their text respectively.
The focus of much of the battle over Kavanaugh's confirmation will be Roe v. Wade the high court's 1973 opinion that struck down all state restrictions on abortion and legalized the lethal procedure throughout the country.
Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President J.D. Greear both vice presidents and several former presidents signed onto a statement issued late Monday that backed Trump's nominee. The SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) sponsored the document.
In their statement the 39 signers said they believe the Bible "teaches that government is justly ordered when it exercises the proper authority delegated to it by God. This means ensuring the rule of law administering justice fairly and impartially protecting the God-given dignity of every human being and safeguarding our constitutional liberties.
"Because of the great importance the Supreme Court plays in interpreting the Constitution it is necessary that nominees be impartial and faithful to the Constitution as it is not as he or she simply wishes it to be" the signers said adding they believe Kavanaugh's judicial philosophy fulfills these "important criteria" and they will "pray and work for a quick confirmation process."
A.B. Vines the SBC's first vice president and Felix Cabrera second vice president signed onto the statement with Greear. All three were elected to their offices during the SBC's annual meeting in June.
After release of the statement Greear said on Twitter "As leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention @DrABVines @PastorFelixC and I stand united in support of Brett Kavanaugh as nominee and pray his appointment leads to justice and religious freedom for all people."
Also endorsing the statement were former SBC presidents Ronnie Floyd Steve Gaines Jack Graham Johnny Hunt and James Merritt as well as three convention seminary presidents and ERLC President Russell Moore.
Moore described Kavanaugh as "a tremendous choice" whom he fully supports.
"I am confident Judge Kavanaugh will be a strong defender of the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and Bill of Rights especially our First Freedom of religious liberty" Moore said in a written release. "I pray that Judge Kavanaugh will serve for decades to come with a firm and unwavering commitment to our Constitution's principles."
A judge on the D.C. Circuit Court for 12 years Kavanaugh was nominated to that bench in 2003 by President George W. Bush but did not receive a confirmation vote for three years when he was approved 57-36 by the Senate. Previously his experience included time as a senior associate counsel and staff secretary for Bush as well as a Supreme Court clerk for Kennedy.
Kavanaugh's record as an appellate judge has received favorable reviews from nearly all pro-life and religious freedom advocates although at least one such organization – the American Family Association (AFA) – announced its opposition today (July 10). AFA President Tim Wildmon cited "problematic language" in several of his opinions.
In three cases recounted by pro-life or religious liberty organizations:
-- Kavanaugh dissented from a decision in October by the D.C. Circuit Court that allowed an undocumented minor seized at the border to have an abortion according to the National Right to Life Committee. In his dissent Kavanaugh said the court's opinion was "ultimately based on a constitutional principle as novel as it is wrong: a new right for unlawful immigrant minors in U.S. Government detention to obtain immediate abortion on demand. ... The majority's decision represents a radical extension of the Supreme Court's abortion jurisprudence."
-- He also dissented from the court's ruling against a pro-life religious non-profit organization's challenge of the Obama administration's abortion/contraception mandate said Michael Farris president of Alliance Defending Freedom which does not take a position on high court nominees. The court refused a request for a rehearing and Kavanaugh said when the government "requires someone (under threat of incurring monetary sanctions or punishment or of having a benefit denied) to act or to refrain from acting in violation of his or her sincere religious beliefs that constitutes a substantial burden on the exercise of religion. ... That is precisely what happened here."
-- In a concurring opinion in 2010 Kavanaugh said prayers at the presidential inauguration and the use of the oath "So help me God" do not violate the First Amendment clause prohibiting a government establishment of religion Farris wrote.
In introducing his nominee Trump said Kavanaugh "has impeccable credentials unsurpassed qualifications and a proven commitment to equal justice under the law. There is no one in America more qualified for this position and no one more deserving."
When it was his turn Kavanaugh told the White House audience his philosophy as a judge is "straightforward."
"A judge must be independent and must interpret the law not make the law" he said. "A judge must interpret statutes as written. And a judge must interpret the Constitution as written informed by history and tradition and precedent."
Kavanaugh needs a simple majority of the 100-member Senate to gain confirmation. Republicans hold a 51-49 majority which means the GOP leadership has little room to spare in its own party for approval of the president's nominee.
Sen. Charles Schumer the Senate's Democratic leader quickly declared his opposition to Kavanaugh.
Trump's selection "has put reproductive rights and freedoms and health care protections for millions of Americans on the judicial chopping block" Schumer said in a written statement late Monday. "I will oppose Judge Kavanaugh's nomination with everything I have and I hope a bipartisan majority will do the same."
Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska said on Twitter late Monday "Brett Kavanaugh is a serious jurist known for careful deliberation. This doesn't matter to many on the left. Sadly the #Resistance is going to try to bork him by portraying him as a cross between Lex Luthor and Darth Vader."
"Bork" became a verb for the defamatory treatment of a nominee or candidate after Senate Democrats rejected President Reagan's nomination of D.C. Circuit Court Judge Robert Bork in 1987. Kennedy ultimately gained confirmation in Bork's place.
Other signers of the ERLC-sponsored statement in support of Kavanaugh were:
-- SBC seminary presidents Daniel Akin of Southeastern Jason Allen of Midwestern and R. Albert Mohler Jr. of Southern;
-- Denominational organizational or school heads Denny Burk of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood D.A. Carson of The Gospel Coalition David Dockery of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School Richard Land of Southern Evangelical Seminary Dennis Rainey of FamilyLife Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and Roland Warren of Care Net.
The statement is available at https://erlc.com/resource-library/statements/evangelical-leaders-support-judge-brett-kavanaugh-for-supreme-court-appointment.