Candidates debate Supremes, Roe, and Ledbetter

For those of you who tuned into last night’s final presidential debate (we know the season finale of Project Runway provided some stiff competition for viewers) you know that Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama hit on some legal issues during their sparring.

Bob Schieffer asked the candidates if they would nominate a Supreme Court justice that disagreed with their views on Roe v. Wade:

See more, including transcript excerpts and more video, after the jump.


For those without headphones to listen to the video at your desk, here are excerpts:

MCCAIN: I would never and have never in all the years I’ve been there imposed a litmus test on any nominee to the court. That’s not appropriate to do.”
SCHIEFFER: But you don’t want Roe v. Wade to be overturned?
MCCAIN: I thought it was a bad decision. I think there were a lot of decisions that were bad. I think that decisions should rest in the hands of the states. I’m a federalist. And I believe strongly that we should have nominees to the United States Supreme Court based on their qualifications rather than any litmus test.

McCain went on to accuse Obama of politicizing the judicial confirmation process.

MCCAIN: There was a time a few years ago when the United States Senate was about to blow up. Republicans wanted to have just a majority vote to confirm a judge and the Democrats were blocking in an unprecedented fashion.
We got together seven Republicans, seven Democrats. You were offered a chance to join. You chose not to because you were afraid of the appointment of, quote, “conservative judges.”
I voted for Justice Breyer and Justice Ginsburg. Not because I agreed with their ideology, but because I thought they were qualified and that elections have consequences when presidents are nominated. This is a very important issue we’re talking about.
Senator Obama voted against Justice Breyer [DC Dicta thinks he meant Justice Samuel Alito – Breyer was confirmed in 1994, before Obama was a senator] and Justice Roberts on the grounds that they didn’t meet his ideological standards. That’s not the way we should judge these nominees. Elections have consequences. They should be judged on their qualifications. And so that’s what I will do.
I will find the best people in the world — in the United States of America who have a history of strict adherence to the Constitution. And not legislating from the bench.

Then it was Obama’s turn:

OBAMA: Well, I think it’s true that we shouldn’t apply a strict litmus test and the most important thing in any judge is their capacity to provide fairness and justice to the American people.
And it is true that this is going to be, I think, one of the most consequential decisions of the next president. It is very likely that one of us will be making at least one and probably more than one appointments and Roe versus Wade probably hangs in the balance.
Now I would not provide a litmus test. But I am somebody who believes that Roe versus Wade was rightly decided. I think that abortion is a very difficult issue and it is a moral issue and one that I think good people on both sides can disagree on.
But what ultimately I believe is that women in consultation with their families, their doctors, their religious advisers, are in the best position to make this decision. And I think that the Constitution has a right to privacy in it that shouldn’t be subject to state referendum, any more than our First Amendment rights are subject to state referendum, any more than many of the other rights that we have should be subject to popular vote.

Then Obama brought up the case of Lilly Ledbetter, who unsuccessfully appeal to the Supreme Court to restart the statute of limitations for gender-based unequal pay claims with each issuance of a disparate paycheck:

OBAMA: So this is going to be an important issue. I will look for those judges who have an outstanding judicial record, who have the intellect, and who hopefully have a sense of what real-world folks are going through.
I’ll just give you one quick example. Senator McCain and I disagreed recently when the Supreme Court made it more difficult for a woman named Lilly Ledbetter to press her claim for pay discrimination.
For years, she had been getting paid less than a man had been paid for doing the exact same job. And when she brought a suit, saying equal pay for equal work, the judges said, well, you know, it’s taken you too long to bring this lawsuit, even though she didn’t know about it until fairly recently.
We tried to overturn it in the Senate. I supported that effort to provide better guidance to the courts; John McCain opposed it.
I think that it’s important for judges to understand that if a woman is out there trying to raise a family, trying to support her family, and is being treated unfairly, then the court has to stand up, if nobody else will. And that’s the kind of judge that I want.

McCain dismissed the measure as a boon for trial lawyers, and quickly turned the conversation to partial-birth abortion.

You can find the complete transcript from the debate here.

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