President Trump has chosen Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on the Supreme Court, a decision he announced on Monday night live from the White House.
The establishment wing of the Republican party quickly rallied to praise the choice. Kavanaugh once served as an aide to President George W. Bush, and is a Yale graduate twice over. Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson quickly called the nominee a “man of character, decency and intellectual depth.” Bush himself quickly issued a statement calling him a “brilliant jurist.”
But the praise was hardly unanimous on the right. The American Family Association, a conservative organization that owns hundreds of radio stations, immediately urged its supporters to contact their senators to oppose the nominee. The AFA takes issue with Kavanaugh’s opinion in an Obamacare-related case that affirmed the government has a “compelling” interest in providing women with access to contraception. The statement echoed a long argument by an anonymous writer at the Federalist several days ago, worrying over Kavanaugh’s “troubling record on religious liberty.”
Though Christian conservatives had been generally pleased by Trump’s short-list, Kavanaugh had not been their favorite leading up the announcement. Instead, many social conservatives championed another federal judge, Amy Coney Barrett, in part because of the optics of having a conservative woman and mother of seven presiding over abortion decisions on the court. (Barrett did have one skeptic on the Christian right, though: Pat Robertson, who mused on a recent CBN News segment, “That’s going to be tough to be a judge and take care of all those kids, won’t it?” It’s unclear if he knows Barrett is already a judge.)
Some pro-life voices called Barrett’s spurning a missed opportunity on Monday night. In an op-ed for the Washington Post, David French of the National Review lamented the choice of Kavanaugh without actually opposing it, calling him an “establishment” pick, a “safe choice,” and an “elitist’s elitist.” By contrast, he wrote, picking Barrett—who allegedly belongs to a conservative Catholic religious community—could have prompted an “important cultural moment”: “an opportunity for the best of young professional Christians to face the worst of progressive antireligion bias and prevail on the largest possible stage.”
The pro-life movement was ecstatic when Kennedy announced his retirement, but its reactions to the Kavanaugh nomination on Monday were initially pretty muted. The president of the Human Coalition, an anti-abortion group, issued a statement saying Kavanaugh would “likely” see Roe v. Wade as unconstitutional, and that “we pray” the nominee would “defend human life”—hardly a statement of full-throated confidence.
By the end of the night, however, the pro-life movement and the Christian right had begun rallying to support the president’s nominee. The Susan B. Anthony List called Kavanaugh an “outstanding choice”; Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom coalition praised Kavanaugh as another pick “in the model of Antonin Scalia.” The pro-life group Students for Life of America released a statement saying Trump “is keeping a promise to the American people,” and announced a pressure campaign on potentially skeptical senators in states including Indiana, West Virginia, Maine, Missouri, and Florida.
Christian conservatives have spent the past year and a half ignoring or accepting some very un-Christian behavior from their president, trusting that he would give them the Supreme Court they’ve longed for. Similarly, it seems they don’t have to love Kavanaugh to support him—they just have to trust that he’ll do the job.