Reports emerged last week—days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, letting states ban abortion—that President Joe Biden had struck a “deal” with Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to nominate anti-abortion Republican lawyer Chad Meredith to a lifetime federal judgeship in Kentucky once a vacancy opened. His nomination was allegedly in exchange for McConnell “agreeing not to hold up future federal nominations,” according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Then on Friday morning, Kentucky federal judge Karen Caldwell’s retirement became public, creating a vacancy in the Eastern District of Kentucky. Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern confirmed the alleged deal and reported that Caldwell had conditioned her retirement on the appointment of a conservative successor.
Meredith isn’t just any anti-abortion lawyer, he’s a member of the Federalist Society, the archconservative legal group to which President Donald Trump outsourced vetting for all three of his Supreme Court nominations. Both Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) and Rep. John Yarmuth (D) confirmed the deal to the Courier Journal, with Beshear calling it “indefensible.”
On Tuesday afternoon, a coalition of reproductive rights and justice organizations took the fairly unprecedented step of commenting on a reported, but not final, nomination. The eight groups—All* Above All Action Fund, Catholics for Choice, NARAL Pro-Choice America, National Council Of Jewish Women, National Women’s Law Center, Physicians for Reproductive Health, Planned Parenthood Federation Of America, and URGE—said in a statement:
We are in a national abortion crisis. Following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, states have already moved to ban and restrict abortion access—including Kentucky. We are in this moment because anti-abortion judges were intentionally nominated at every level to take away our fundamental right to abortion—and given his record, we know Chad Meredith would be no exception.
Chad Meredith should not be nominated to a lifetime judgeship. This is unacceptable at any time, but especially on the heels of six Supreme Court justices taking away a fundamental right from millions of people.
At a press briefing shortly after the release of that statement, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre faced multiple questions about Meredith and said, “We haven’t nominated anyone—that’s what I would say—as of yet.”
Then on Tuesday evening, the Courier Journal reported on emails from the White House to Beshear’s office confirming that the nomination was set to happen on Friday, June 24—the day the Supreme Court overturned Roe. The nomination didn’t happen and a few days later a White House aide replied that initial the email was “pre-decisional,” suggesting they may attempt to backtrack. From the story:
White House aide Kathleen M. Marshall, a former lieutenant governor in Nevada who joined the White House in August as senior adviser to governors in the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, sent the June 23 email that stated: “To be nominated tomorrow: … Stephen Chad Meredith: candidate for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky.”
The email, with a subject line of “Close hold,” was sent to Coulter Minix, a Beshear staffer in the governor’s D.C. office, who immediately replied: “Thanks, Kate. I’ll share the info and appreciate the heads up.”
...In a follow-up email Marshall sent Minix on June 29, she stated her June 23 email was “pre-decisional and privileged information.”
Sure, if Biden goes still through with this insane lifetime nomination, Democratic Senators could block it, but it all feels like a slap in the face—especially when the Biden administration has totally flubbed its rapid response to the end of Roe. People want the administration to do something, and nominating anti-abortion judges definitely isn’t it.