Behind NARAL's Sotomayor endorsement

The organization's Policy Director tells Broadsheet why they made the decision, two months after her nomination

By Judy Berman
Published July 21, 2009 5:22PM (EDT)

It's been almost two months since President Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to replace Justice David H. Souter on the Supreme Court. At the time, pro-choice feminist groups like NOW and Planned Parenthood lined up to support the historic decision, despite knowing little about the judge's stance on abortion rights. But there was one major holdout: NARAL Pro-Choice America. Although the organization did express initial optimism, NARAL seemed to be embracing a "wait and see" strategy: "We look forward to learning more about Judge Sotomayor's views on the right to privacy and the landmark Roe v. Wade decision as the Senate's hearing process moves forward," said NARAL President Nancy Keenan, in a statement.

As of this morning, NARAL has officially jumped on the Sotomayor bandwagon. "President Obama made a sound choice in nominating Judge Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court," said Keenan and NARAL Pro-Choice New York President Kelli Conlin in a joint statement.

As we outlined in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the fate of Roe v. Wade hangs in the balance, and the addition of President Bush’s appointees, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, has moved the court in a direction hostile to a woman’s right to choose ... We are pleased that Judge Sotomayor expressed stronger support for the established constitutional right to privacy than either Chief Justice Roberts or Justice Alito, both of whom had anti-choice records before being nominated to their current positions.

Curious as to why NARAL has chosen this moment to make their endorsement, I phoned Donna Crane, the organization's Policy Director, for a more complete take. As Crane told me, their decision hinged on three factors. First, NARAL counted Obama's nomination as a good sign, because "we believe he shares the same vision for the Supreme Court that we do." Then, they tried to dig up the nominee's reproductive rights record -- and found that she didn't really have one. So NARAL had to wait until Sotomayor's confirmation hearings to determine whether to support her nomination. "We wanted to see the Senate process," said Crane.

As Crane told me, there wasn't a precise moment or answer that convinced NARAL to support Sotomayor. Instead, they decided based on "the totality of her testimony and of senators' conversations with her." The organization factored in support for Sotomayor from pro-choice senators, as well as the nominee's discussion of Roe vs. Wade, in which she told Sen. Tom Coburn, "In Planned Parenthood versus Casey, the court reaffirmed the core holding of Roe versus Wade, that a woman has a constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy in certain circumstances ... That’s my understanding of what the state of the law is."

When I asked Crane whether she felt Roberts and Alito should be the standard by which to measure Supreme Court nominees' views on abortion, she laughed and went on to affirm that what is important about Sotomayor isn't where she stands in relation to the conservative justices -- it's her belief in women's constitutional right to choose.

Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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