Edith Clement on abortion rights

She didn't say much when she was nominated to the court of appeals in 1991. Will she be required to say more if Bush nominates her to the Supreme Court?

Published July 19, 2005 5:50PM (EDT)

As we noted earlier today, at least some conservatives are confident that 5th Circuit judge Edith Clement is one of their own when it comes to the issue of abortion. If George W. Bush nominates Clement to the Supreme Court tonight, what will be hearing from her about the issue? Nothing right away, of course, but her comments during her appellate court confirmation process in 2001 give us a clue of what she'll say eventually.

The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy has an excerpt up on its Web site. When Clement was asked if she thought the constitutional right to privacy encompasses a woman's right to have an abortion, ACS says she said: "The Supreme Court has clearly held that the right to privacy guaranteed by the Constitution includes the right to have an abortion. The cases handed down by the Supreme Court on the right to abortion have reaffirmed and redefined this right, and the law is settled in that regard. If confirmed, I will faithfully apply Supreme Court precedent."

That's a fine answer for someone nominated to serve on a court that is bound by Supreme Court precedent. As a Supreme Court justice, however, Clement would have the opportunity to reshape that precedent whenever she could get four other justices to join her. And on at least some abortion-related questions, there are four justices -- William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy -- who are waiting to do just that.

Having interviewed her in private at the White House, administration officials presumably know full well how Clement intends to rule in cases involving abortion rights and other issues important to Bush's Christianist base. With John Cornyn and -- until recently, at least -- Karl Rove holding forth about what sort of questions shouldn't be asked in the confirmation process, the Republicans are doing what they can to deny Democrats the same sort of knowledge.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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