Republican Sen. Mike Braun is attempting a rather unconvincing cleanup job after telling reporters on Tuesday that the Supreme Court was wrong to strike down state laws banning interracial marriage in its landmark 1967 decision, Loving v. Virginia.
Braun, the junior senator from Indiana, made his comments during a media call in which he argued that policy issues should generally be left in the hands of state governments whenever possible, especially in the case of abortion.
“So you would be OK with the Supreme Court leaving the question of interracial marriage to the states?” a reporter asked.
“Yes,” Braun answered. “I think that that’s something that if you’re not wanting the Supreme Court to weigh in on issues like that, you’re not going to be able to have your cake and eat it too. I think that’s hypocritical.“
That sounded pretty unambiguous! But afterward, Braun’s office issued a statement attempting to walk back the comment, suggesting he had misunderstood the question despite having seemingly answered with unblinking certitude.
Earlier during a virtual press conference I misunderstood a line of questioning that ended up being about interracial marriage, let me be clear on that issue - there is no question the Constitution prohibits discrimination of any kind based on race, that is not something that is even up for debate, and I condemn racism in any form, at all levels and by any states, entities, or individuals.
Could this really have been an honest misunderstanding? Let’s look at the fuller transcript, starting with where the reporter first asks about abortion.
For context, keep in mind that this exchange occurred after a long question-and-answer session, in which Braun repeatedly suggested that states should handle major policy issues when it was practical, even including ones like marijuana legalization that conservatives often prefer to address federally.
Reporter: Hi, Senator. You spoke about judicial activism. If the Supreme Court later this year strikes down the right to abortion, would you consider that judicial activism, legislating from the bench?
Braun: I consider it to have been judicial activism when it occurred back almost 50 years ago. So I think this would be bringing it back to a neutral point to where that issue should have never been federalized, way out of sync I think with the contour of America then. This puts it back to a point where, like most of these issues, where one side of the aisle wants to homogenize it federally, it’s not the right way to do it.
This should be something where the expression of individual states are able to weigh in on these issues through their own legislation, through their own court systems, quit trying to put the federal government in charge of not only things like we did navigating through COVID recently, where I think that was misguided, but in general. So no, I think this takes it back to a point where it should have never gotten beyond in the first place.
Reporter: Would that same basis [apply] to something like Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court case that legalized interracial marriage?
Braun: When it comes to issues, you can’t have it both ways. When you want that diversity to shine within our federal system, there are going to be rules, and proceedings, that are going to be out of sync with maybe what other states would do. That’s the beauty of the system. And that’s where the differences among points of view in our 50 states ought to express themselves. And I’m not saying that rule would apply in general, depending on the topic, but it should mostly be in general, because it’s hard to have it on issues that you are just are interested in when you deny it for others with a different point of view.
Reporter: So you would be OK with the Supreme Court leaving the question of interracial marriage to the states?
Braun: Yes. I think that that’s something that if you’re not wanting the Supreme Court to weigh in on issues like that, you’re not going to be able to have your cake and eat it too. I think that’s hypocritical.
Reporter: What about Griswold v. Connecticut?
Braun: You can list a whole bunch of issues, when it comes down to whatever they are. I’m going to say that they’re not all going to make you happy within a given state, but we’re better off states manifest their points of view rather than homogenizing it across the country as Roe v. Wade did.
There are some mush-mouthed bits here and there, but overall, Braun certainly seems to understand what he’s talking about, and in fact sounds like a man who has given this whole topic very careful consideration. The first time the reporter asks him about interracial marriage, he says “you can’t have it both ways” when it comes to states’ rights, and that “diversity” is the “beauty of the system.” The second time he’s asked if the court should have let states determine whether or not to ban Black and white Americans from being wed, he says “yes.” Finally, asked about Griswold v. Connecticut, the case where the court struck down laws barring contraception, he says that regardless of the issue, he pretty much always believes states should have the right to “manifest their points of view” (because we all talk like Instagram influencers now). To his credit, Braun is being extremely clear and consistent. Say what you will about 1950s-style states’ rights fundamentalism—at least it’s an ethos.
Anyway, it feels like it’s been a little while since a conservative politician hastily backtracked in embarrassment over a racist gaffe, rather than doubling down or railing against the fake news for distorting their words. In that way, Braun’s cleanup job is kind of refreshing. At least the man, or his staff, is capable of feeling shame.