U.S. Sen. Tina Smith implored Minnesotans on Friday to oppose the confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh is "a serious threat to women's freedom to make their own health care choices," Smith said.
Smith, a Democrat who has been a Planned Parenthood executive and volunteer, spoke at the Warren E. Burger Federal Building in St. Paul. Burger, the St. Paul native who rose to become chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, voted with the majority in Roe v. Wade to legalize abortion in 1973. Smith's backdrop also included a few dozen people with signs reading "Protect Health Care #savescotus" and "I stand with Planned Parenthood."
Smith is on the Nov. 6 ballot, facing GOP state Sen. Karin Housley.
Kavanaugh is "an excellent choice" to join the top court, Housley said in a statement this week as confirmation hearings began on Capitol Hill. His "judicial temperament and professional credentials are not in doubt," she said. In a Facebook video, Housley criticized Smith for "blind opposition and partisan obstruction."
Smith on Friday called the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Kavanaugh "a pivotal moment for our democracy," noting that Kavanaugh could have a significant impact on marriage and voting rights and environmental policies.
Minnesota's other senator, Democrat Amy Klobuchar, is a member of the committee. She questioned Kavanaugh on several issues, including his stance on net neutrality.
Despite Democrats' qualms, Kavanaugh, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, is expected to be confirmed by that committee and the full U.S. Senate, which is controlled by Republicans.
President Donald Trump "believes that he can count on Judge Kavanaugh to cast that decisive fifth vote to overturn Roe," Smith said.
If that happens, 22 states "are poised to take these private, personal decisions away from women and put them in the hands of Republican-controlled legislatures," she said.
Four states — Louisiana, Mississippi and the Dakotas — have laws in place that would effectively ban abortions if Roe is overturned, Smith said.
Sarah Stoesz, president of the Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota Action Fund, also spoke Friday. She criticized the release of thousands of pages of Kavanaugh records on the eve of the hearings. "Senators were essentially being asked to govern blindfolded," she said.
Stoesz also noted that during the hearings Kavanaugh wouldn't commit to never overturning Roe v. Wade and that he referred to some forms of contraception as "abortion-inducing drugs."
More broadly, she said, "it appears this next Supreme Court justice stands ready to put the president above the law. He appears he would grant the president powers that would undermine the investigations that are swirling around the current administration.
Dr. Sarah Traxler, a St. Paul obstetrician/gynecologist and Planned Parenthood's medical director, said that Kavanaugh "is not right for this country."
"It's time to stop this," Traxler said. "Physicians need to be able to make the best medical decisions for and with their patients according to medicine, not politics."
Because of her former roles with Planned Parenthood, Smith said, "I know from experience that the right to safe, high-quality reproductive health care has a profound impact on the lives that women lead. … I trust women to make that decision for themselves and their families."
She also said that Kavanaugh "has refused to say" whether he believes that insurance companies should be allowed to discriminate against people with pre-existing medical conditions. "Your voices are strong," she said, "but only if you use them."
Judy Keen • 612-673-4234