Supreme Court appointment may cast shadow over Missouri's US Senate contest | St. Louis Public Radio

Supreme Court appointment may cast shadow over Missouri's US Senate contest

Jul 3, 2018

Although President Donald Trump isn’t expected to announce his Supreme Court nominee until next week, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and her best-known GOP rival are already gearing up for a major fight.

That’s particularly true for the Republican, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, who’s contending that the future of the U.S. Supreme Court – and McCaskill’s past confirmation votes – should be the pivotal issue in their contest.

“The U.S. Supreme Court summarizes everything that this race is about,’’ said Hawley. “Whether it is immigration, whether it is religious liberty, whether it is right to life …”

Hawley said that’s particularly true because Justice Anthony Kennedy – often a swing vote – is retiring. “The president is going to appoint a justice who will turn the court in a new direction,’’ Hawley said.

Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley and Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill
Credit Durrie Bouscaren & Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

That’s why Hawley says he is calling for a debate with McCaskill just on the Supreme Court. He also has set up a website attacking McCaskill’s past confirmation votes.

“She has never been right about a Supreme Court nominee,’’ he said, pointing to her votes in favor of progressive nominees, and opposition to conservative ones. He contended that McCaskill’s votes have not reflected “our values’’ in Missouri.

McCaskill defends record

McCaskill said any debate can wait until after the August primary, and that it should involve a number of issues.

But as for the Supreme Court, she said she will use the same approach she has used before, which includes examining the writings and legal decisions of the nominee, as well as interviewing them personally.

“I did that with Justice Gorsuch and I made the determination that I could not support him,” McCaskill said.

But she added that doesn’t mean she’ll automatically oppose Trump’s next nominee. “I don’t know who he will nominate, but I am not going to pre-judge it at this point.”

McCaskill has voted in favor of 68 percent of Trump’s judicial nominees, which she said was an indication that she looked at each one individually.

In a jab at Hawley’s challenge, she said, “Josh wants to debate on the Supreme Court because he went to a fancy law school and then clerked at the Supreme Court.” Hawley graduated from Yale Law School, then worked for Chief Justice John Roberts.

How much focus on abortion?

So far, Hawley and McCaskill have sidestepped questions about how the abortion issue will influence their decision. Much of the national focus on Trump’s decision has revolved around its impact on the 1973 Supreme Court decision – known as Roe v. Wade – that legalized most abortions.

Hawley’s campaign said in a statement that he believed Roe “was wrongly decided from a legal perspective,” and he has repeatedly said he opposes abortion. But Hawley also said that a variety of issues have affected his view of how a Supreme Court justice should rule.

McCaskill says there’s no question that she long has supported women’s reproductive rights. But she added that she wasn’t a one-issue voter when it came to the Supreme Court, and that she believed that also was true of most of the public.

In any case, the battle lines appear drawn. The chief unknown at the moment is who Trump will nominate.

Follow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies