Evangelical Group Voices Opposition to Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court Nomination

President Donald Trump announces his Supreme Court pick, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, to fill the seat created by Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement on July 9, 2018. | (Screengrab: C-SPAN)

While many conservative evangelical leaders and organizations have voiced their support President Donald Trump's nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace his former boss, Justice Anthony Kennedy, on the U.S. Supreme Court, at least one conservative Christian group is voicing its concerns with the selection.

The American Family Association, an evangelical conservative nonprofit known for its staunch opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion that is accredited by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, wasted no time in issuing its disappointment with Monday night's nomination.

"Judge Kavanaugh's reasoning on religious liberty, Obamacare and issues concerning life have proven to be of major concern," AFA President Tim Wildmon said in a statement. "For these and other reasons, we are calling on citizens to urge their senators to firmly oppose the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court."

Wildmon continued by saying that Kavanaugh, a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, is the "wrong nominee" and even "a bad nominee."

"Based on his written opinions, Judge Kavanaugh has demonstrated a deficiency in a constitutional judicial philosophy of a limited judiciary," Wildmon concluded. "Some of his decisions may have been favorable, but several of his opinions contain problematic language."

Considering that Wildmon and the AFA are in the minority when it comes to evangelical organizations' opinions of Kavanaugh, the organization issued a clarification on Tuesday.

The statement released on Tuesday reads:

"AFA has opposed the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court for some very valid reasons. We are deeply concerned about how he might ultimately rule on issues related to abortion and religious liberty. For these reasons, we consider this nomination to represent a four-star appointment when it could have been five-star.

However, after hearing the concerns of some of our supporters, and after hearing the passionate defense of Judge Kavanaugh by many we consider to be friends in the pro-life movement, we are willing to let this process play out. We eagerly await the confirmation hearings when we hope to get clarification from Judge Kavanaugh on aspects related to our concerns.

At this time, we have no plans to fight President Trump on this nomination. He has appointed a lot of good federal judges already and we look forward to many more. We hope that our concerns prove to be unfounded."

AFA's hesitance to support Kavanaugh comes as organizations such as the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, the Faith & Freedom Coalition, the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission have all praised the nomination. Prominent leaders such as Franklin Graham, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez and Pastor Greg Laurie have also signaled their support for the nomination.

In fact, the ERLC released a statement of support for Kavanaugh that was signed by nearly 40 evangelical leaders, including ERCL President Russell Moore, a number of Baptist seminary heads, former presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention and SBC President J.D. Greear.

The statement was also signed by figures such as Liberty University professor Karen Swallow Prior; Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy; and John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

"We believe that the judicial philosophy of Judge Brett Kavanaugh fulfills the important criteria listed above and merits appointment as the next associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court," the statement reads. "Given his credentials, and in view of the overwhelming support Judge Brett Kavanaugh received upon his appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2006, the U.S. Senate should work diligently to confirm his appointment without obstruction."

Although the AFA is in the minority when it comes to its Christian conservative opposition to Kavanaugh, it is not alone in its disappointment.

National Review columnist David French called the Kavanaugh pick a "safe choice" but an "opportunity lost."

"There was a choice out there that fired the conservative imagination, the kind of choice that arguably only a Donald Trump would have the guts to make," French wrote in an op-ed Monday night.

"That pick could have been Amy Coney Barrett, an evangelical United States Circuit Judge that many evangelicals voiced support for when she was named as one of the finalists for the nomination.

"Barrett's nomination wouldn't 'just' have put an outstanding originalist on the court for 30 years, it would have helped blunt the force of secular bigotry," French wrote. "The direct confrontation between an angry secular Left and an accomplished, poised Christian professional would have represented a culturally important moment."

French concluded by writing: "I'll defend [Kavanaugh] vigorously from unfair critiques tomorrow, but tonight I join many conservatives in a slight sigh of regret. There was a better choice."

ABC News reported that some pro-life activists had lobbied the White House not to nominate Kavanaugh and instead nominate Barrett.

A White House source told the outlet that the March for Life, a prominent organization that holds an annual pro-life march in Washington each winter, was reportedly among those who voiced concern about Kavanaugh to the White House.

"They don't believe he has the backbone to stand up for conservative issues," a source was quoted as saying.

Some of the most concerning elements of Kavanaugh's case history for some conservatives was his arguing in 2011 that it was "legally premature" to consider the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

Another issue of concern for social conservatives was Kavanaugh's ruling in a lawsuit brought against the Obamacare contraception mandate by the pro-life organization Priests for Life. Although Kavanaugh sided in favor of the group, Vox reports that some conservatives might argue that his opinion was not strong enough.

Some conservatives also feel that the Kavanaugh's dissent in a 2017 case involving a detained immigrant teenager seeking an abortion while in federal custody wasn't strong enough because he didn't join a dissenting opinion that argued that there is no constitutional right for a woman who entered the country illegally to have an abortion.

"This case exemplifies why Kavanaugh is not the best available Supreme Court prospect," Philip Jauregui of the Judicial Action Group wrote in a recent memo to conservative leaders prior to the nomination, according to Politico.

Jauregui said that Kavanaugh's dissent in that case was not as "constitutionally principled" as the dissent from Judge Karen Henderson.

Former Virginia Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli told Politico that he was troubled by Kavanaugh's ruling in the immigrant abortion case and said that a ruling like that suggests that Kavanaugh is not reliably conservative and could be a justice in the mold of Chief Justice John Roberts.

"I really feel like Kavanaugh's just another Roberts," Cuccinelli said last week. "He came straight out of the Ivy League to Washington, was never outside the beltway and went to the Bush White House. To paraphrase Sen. Feinstein, the Bush speaks loudly in him."

However, supporters of Kavanaug, such as Focus on the Family President Jim Daly, argue that Kavanaugh is a "fair-minded" jurist. 

"Most notably for these times marked by political and cultural divisions, Judge Kavanaugh has the reputation of being fair-minded and able to work with his fellow judges who might have a different point of view," Daly said in a statement. "His temperament is well-suited for the demands of our nation's highest court."

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith Follow Samuel Smith on Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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