President Trump’s choice of Brett Kavanaugh to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy isn’t exactly setting the religious right on fire.
Despite Kavanaugh’s conservative track record on the bench, as well as his willingness to change his legal views to favor of Republicans, one leading religious right group even came out in opposition to his nomination–briefly. The rest are palpably disappointed but rallying around Trump.
The defector in the bunch was the American Family Association (AFA), the Mississippi-based group that has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. For a span of about five hours, AFA was asking its followers to call their senators and oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination.
AFA declared that Kavanaugh is “simply the wrong nominee – even a bad nominee.” AFA complained that Kavanaugh ruled the right way, but used “problematic language” in doing so.
But AFA quickly backtracked after hearing from “many we consider to be friends in the pro-life movement.” Suddenly, AFA admitted that Kavanaugh was a “four-star appointment.” What AFA was hoping for was a five-star appontment.
While not the biggest player on the religious right team, AFA still has a substantial following. Yet it also has a history of being unsatisfied with even the most conservative nominees. It fretted that Neil Gorsuch attended a liberal church, making him suspect.
AFA was saying aloud what many religious right leaders seem to have been saying privately. Their choice was Amy Coney Barrett. By contrast, Kavanaugh is “uninspiring.”
Barrett is not an evangelical, but she is deeply involved in conservative Catholic groups and became an icon for the religious right when Sen. Dianne Feinstein questioned her “dogma” during Barrett’s confirmation hearings last year.
As AFA’s about-face showed, religious right groups are putting on a happy face and closing ranks around the president, if not the nominee. Still, they are clearly disappointed that Trump didn’t pick Barrett. As a result, there’s a noticeable lack of exuberance in statements about Kavanaugh.
“For a second time, President Trump has followed through on his promise to select a nominee from the list he presented during the campaign. President Trump promised a constitutionalist – someone who will call balls and strikes according to the Constitution,” the Family Research Council said. “We trust the president that Judge Kavanaugh will fit this mold as a justice.”
“The president promised to appoint justices committed to doing just that, and we’re hopeful Judge Kavanaugh shares that commitment,” the Alliance Defending Freedom said. (ADF argued the Masterpiece Cake case before the Court.)
“Kavanaugh generally brings a pragmatic approach to judging, although his judicial philosophy has applied principles of textualism and originalism espoused by the late Justice Antonin Scalia,” said Liberty Counsel, a right-wing legal group
“Evangelicals are ecstatic because in less than two years President Trump has filled a second Supreme Court vacancy with a second conservative—just as he promised,” right-wing pastor Robert Jeffress said. “The fact that the president chose another conservative justice is more important than the name of that justice.”
We trust, we’re hopeful, pragmatic, more important than the name – talk about damning with faint praise. No one is saying they’re thrilled or ecstatic. One can only imagine what the contrast would be with the statements about Barrett.