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Marilyn Musgrave speaks outside Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's office in the federal building in downtown Bismarck on Tuesday morning, July 10, urging Heitkamp to vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Musgrave, a former member of congress from Colorado, is the vice president of goverment affairs for the Susan B. Anthony List. Tom Stromme / Forum News Service

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's vote for Trump's SCOTUS nominee could be 'crucial'

BISMARCK—Less than a day after President Donald Trump announced his nominee to fill retiring U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's seat, a group rallied in Bismarck urging Sen. Heidi Heitkamp to confirm the president's pick.

Trump announced conservative Judge Brett Kavanaugh Monday night, and late Tuesday morning, July 10, supporters of the Susan B. Anthony List — an anti-abortion group — rallied outside Heitkamp's office calling on the North Dakota Democrat to confirm Kavanaugh.

His nomination has raised questions about the likelihood of overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that established a woman's right to an abortion. If confirmed, Kavanaugh would cement a conservative bent of 5-4 on the court.

Heitkamp's vote, amid her high stakes re-election battle against Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., could have an impact in more ways than one.

Mark Springer, associate professor of political science at the University of Mary, said it will be interesting to see how Heitkamp navigates Kavanaugh's confirmation process while faced with re-election.

"It really depends on what issues stand out in the hearings, so I think that will probably or could possibly play in her favor as how she can either gain votes on the state level, but then, of course, hurt what she wants on the national level," Springer said. "At the same time, she's a conservative Democrat, so in North Dakota, there's definitely things that you have to do or have to be if you want to be re-elected."

In a statement following Trump's announcement, Heitkamp said she anticipates reviewing Kavanaugh's record.

"I have no doubt that many members of Congress and outside groups will announce how they stand on the nominee before doing their due diligence and instead just take a partisan stance — but that isn't how I work," Heitkamp said. "An exhaustive and fair process took place for Justice (Neil) Gorsuch, who I supported, and it should and must take place again now."

Meanwhile, Cramer expressed support on Twitter for Kavanaugh, who he described as "an excellent pick" for North Dakota, deserving of Heitkamp's and Sen. John Hoeven's votes.

Hoeven, R-N.D., said in a statement that he anticipates meeting with Kavanaugh, whose record he said "shows deep respect and strict interpretation of the Constitution."

Shelle Aberle, state director for the Susan B. Anthony List, said Heitkamp's vote on Kavanaugh "is critical."

"She's done well by North Dakota with (Gorsuch)," Aberle told the Tribune. "She stood by it, she stood with what North Dakotans wanted, so she's a critical vote across the state."

Bette Grande, a former state lawmaker from Fargo, said every vote is important, but North Dakota's senators should reflect anti-abortion values held dear by many, but also more.

"Not just even the pro-life issue when it comes to this particular confirmation," Grande told the Tribune. "What we need are judges that stand for constitutional values, what the Constitution says and if there is a question going back to original intent. That is their job."

Former Colorado Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave, who is the Susan B. Anthony List's vice president of government affairs, spoke at Tuesday's rally, and reiterated that Heitkamp's vote is "very crucial."

"She's under a tremendous amount of pressure because we all know this could shift the balance of the court on the abortion issue," Musgrave told the Tribune. "Here we are. She has a choice to make."

The Susan B. Anthony List organized similar rallies in Indiana, Missouri and West Virginia.

"These are states where there are Democrats where many have said they are pro-life, and now they really have a choice to make with this confirmation process," Musgrave said.

Springer said several months remain in the Cramer-Heitkamp race, with enough time for an October surprise and other issues that could come up later and in the candidates' scheduled debates. It's hard to say if Kavanaugh will be "a turning point," he said.

"I think it's thrilling political drama from a political scientist standpoint, but I don't know if the average person ... really pays attention," he said.

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