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At Forum, Democrats Pledge Support for Abortion Rights and Progressive Judges

Todd Bookman/NHPR

When it comes to abortion rights support, there is little daylight between the Democrats running for president. That much became clear quickly at the ‘Our Rights, Our Courts’ forum in Concord Saturday sponsored by several abortion-rights groups including the Center for Reproductive Rights.

From former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who kicked off the event around 8:30am, to former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who ended the forum more than four hours later, there was widespread agreement: whoever Democratic voters ultimately select as their nominee, that candidate will staunchly support abortion rights. 

“One of the great hypocrisies that I hear from my right-wing conservative colleagues in the Senate” is that government should stay out of peoples’ lives, said Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“Well, if you believe in getting the government off the backs of the American people, understand that it is women who have the right to control their bodies, not the government,” he said to applause.

But there was less for the roughly 500 people in attendance to cheer when candidates spoke of the success Republicans are having installing conservative judges in federal courts around the country. According to the Washington Post, 187 judges have been appointed to federal positions during the first three years of the Trump Administration. 

Credit Todd Bookman/NHPR
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar during Saturday's 'Our Rights, Our Courts' event.

“They have taken over the court system at a level that is scary,” Tom Steyer told the audience. 

That sentiment was echoed by Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet: “I would never want anybody I know to be as cynical or as malevolent as Mitch McConnell. I would not. But I would like us to be as strategic as Mitch McConnell.”

Some candidates spoke of the need to reduce political influence on the U.S. Supreme Court, which will take up major cases this year including a challenge to a Louisiana law that requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. 

Buttigieg used his 30-minute speaking slot Saturday to pitch his idea to expand the number of justices on the court, noting that the size of the court has changed multiple times since its creation.

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang told the crowd that 18-year term limits for Supreme Court justices would ensure they can make decisions free from political influence. It would also dampen the political firestorm that inevitably emerges when a seat opens up.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar used part of her time on stage to call for more audio and video access of Supreme Court hearings.

Credit Todd Bookman/NHPR
Tom Steyer speaking during Saturday's forum at NHTI in Concord.

“This is not the horse and buggy days,” she told the crowd. “Everyone should be able to see the Supreme Court when they make decisions about your rights.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a former Harvard law professor, told the audience that progressives need to stay focused on the courts, even in non-election years. It’s a strategy, she said, Republicans have employed for decades.

“A long, long time ago, the right wing figured out that if you could start nudging those courts to the right, that even things they couldn’t get done through the legislature, things they couldn’t get done by having a president, they’d get a third bite of the apple through the courts,” she said.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University. He can be reached at tbookman@nhpr.org.
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