After seven debates, Democratic candidates for the first time engaged in an extended discussion about their plans for the U.S. Supreme Court and the issues before it, including on their potential nominees to the high court.
Democrats on stage in Manchester, New Hampshire, addressed whether they would impose a litmus test on prospective nominees, namely that they would not vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision that affirmed a woman’s right to have an abortion.
“Yes,” former Vice President Joe Biden said when asked if he would have a litmus test on abortion for his Supreme Court nominees. “Look, here’s the deal, a litmus test on abortion relates to a fundamental value in the Constitution. A woman does have a right to choose.”
Biden also took credit for the nominations of three of the four justices on the liberal wing of the bench, as well as the defeat of Robert Bork’s nomination, who President Ronald Reagan unsuccessfully tapped for the Supreme Court in 1987.
“I was part of the reason why Elena Kagan, who worked for me, got on the Supreme Court. I was part of the reason why Ruth Bader Ginsburg is on the court. I was part of the reason why [Sonia] Sotomayor is on the court,” he said. “I am the reason why this right wasn’t taken away a long time ago because I almost single-handedly made sure that Robert Bork did not get on the court because he did not think there should be unenumerated rights.”
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders also said he would have a litmus test on abortion for his Supreme Court picks.
“I will never nominate any person to the Supreme Court or the federal courts in general who is not 100% pro-Roe v. Wade,” he said.
Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, meanwhile, said she would only appoint judges who respect precedent, including Roe.
Several of the candidates on stage — Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Sanders, and Klobuchar — advocated for legislation codifying the right to an abortion.
“I’ve lived in an America in which abortion was illegal and rich women still got abortions and that’s what we have to remember about this,” Warren, of Massachusetts, said. “States are heading toward trying to ban abortion outright and the Supreme Court seems headed in that direction as well.”
Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg was pressed on his proposal to expand the number of justices on the Supreme Court, a plan that has been opposed by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who said in July that nine is a “good number.”
Buttigieg said that he agreed with Ginsburg that changing the number of justices could have consequences if that was the only reform undertaken.
“What I called for is not only reforming the number of justices on the bench, but structural reform so that some of the justices are not appointed through a partisan process,” he said. “We cannot allow the Supreme Court to continue to become one more political battlefield as we are seeing today.”
Buttigieg also called for a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the 2010 decision that paved the way for unlimited corporate spending in elections.
Seven Democratic candidates battled it out on stage in New Hampshire for the final debate before Tuesday’s first-in-the-nation primary.