Friday, May 20, 2011

Obama and abortion in the courts

President Obama nominated University of California law professor Goodwin Liu for a federal judgeship on the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (which has a reputation as a very liberal Circuit). After a year of wrangling, Liu's nomination has been filibustered by the Senate. Although pro-life groups believe that Liu is opposed to preborn rights, abortion was not the main focus of the debate; conservative Senators were very concerned about Liu's overall judicial philosophy.

Despite the setback with Liu, the Obama administration is moving full steam ahead with another pro-abortion candidate, also for the federal Court of Appeals for Ninth Circuit. Morgan Christen, who is currently a justice on Alaska's state Supreme Court, was a board member of Planned Parenthood's Alaska branch during the 1990s. Planned Parenthood has of course been a vocal opponent of pro-life legislation, including regulations like parental consent that the majority of Americans support. Pro-life legislation is almost always subject to lawsuits by Planned Parenthood and other abortion advocacy groups-- lawsuits that are typically heard in federal court.

As a justice on Alaska's supreme court, Christen did recuse herself from a case in which Planned Parenthood sued to remove a parental notification initiative from the state ballot. However, there are no guarantees that Christen will recuse herself from abortion-related cases in the future.

Obama's nominations are also important because a judgeship on a federal Circuit Court of Appeals can be a stepping stone to becoming a Supreme Court justice. Currently, there are four pro-life Supreme Court Justices (Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Alito, Justice Thomas, and Justice Scalia), just one vote shy of restoring states' ability to end abortion.

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