The Corner

Obama’s Litmus Test

When asked in 2008 if support for Roe would be a “litmus test” for his Supreme Court nominees, Obama answered, “You know, I taught constitutional law for ten years at the University of Chicago. I feel very strongly that a right to privacy is part of the overarching structure of the Constitution. I think a Supreme Court justice who did not believe in that right, as well as the implications for gender equality, would not have the kind of judicial philosophy that I generally believe in.” That sounded like a yes to me.

The president addressed the same basic question today. “You know, I am somebody who believes that women should have the ability to make often very difficult decisions about their own bodies and issues of reproduction. Obviously this has been a hugely contentious issue in our country for a very long time. I will say the same thing that every president has said since this issue came up, which is I don’t have litmus tests around any of these issues.

“But I will say that I want somebody who is going to be interpreting our Constitution in a way that takes into account individual rights, and that includes women’s rights. And that’s going to be something that’s very important to me, because I think part of what our core constitutional values promote is the notion that individuals are protected in their privacy and their bodily integrity, and women are not exempt from that.”

So a right to “privacy” and “bodily integrity,” seemingly understood to encompass abortion, are “core constitutional values.” He may not like the phrase “litmus test,” but it sure sounds as though that’s what he has. (I don’t think there’s anything wrong with litmus tests in general, although I’d prefer they not require the nominee to support doing violence to the Constitution.)

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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