Grassley demurs on his role in potential Roe reversal

By: - May 4, 2022 6:07 pm

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, shown here meeting Sept. 29, 2020, with then-Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, said he worked with former President Donald Trump to secure a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court. (Photo courtesy of Sen. Grassley's office)

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley was reticent in a call with reporters Wednesday about his role in the anticipated overturning of Roe v. Wade, the landmark court decision that made abortions widely available in the United States.

“You never know what they’re going to do,” Grassley said of Supreme Court nominees he has supported. “You look at these people when you’re vetting them, when you’re questioning them, and you don’t know what they’re going to do down the road, and that applies to” the Roe decision.

Grassley in the past has touted his work to create a solid conservative majority on the Supreme Court — even tying himself to former President Donald Trump for the achievement.

A leaked draft of an upcoming Supreme Court opinion indicates a majority of justices may support overturning Roe and a subsequent decision that have been the foundations for abortion rights. The three justices Trump nominated are among them.

One of those justices, Neil Gorsuch, got the nod after Grassley, in his role as head of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2016, declined to consider then-President Barack Obama’s nominee because it was the last year of his presidency.

Grassley, R-Iowa, incensed Democrats when he moved to confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett in Trump’s last year in 2020. Had consideration of that nomination also been declined, President Joe Biden, a Democrat, would have picked late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s successor.

“Together, President Trump and I cemented a conservative 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court,” Grassley said in April at a Republican district convention in Carroll.

On Wednesday, he expressed support for the overturning of Roe but largely declined to talk about the anticipated decision and its implications.

“I don’t think anybody should be surprised where I stand on Roe,” Grassley said. “I’ve had the same position for decades.”

The leaked draft is not the court’s final opinion and it could change. If adopted by a majority of justices as written, however, it is expected to result in the near or outright banning of abortion in about half of the United States, according to the New York Times.

Iowa is not included in that group because of a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that the state constitution protects access to abortions. However, a pending legal challenge to a 2020 law could reverse that protection, and Republican state lawmakers are advancing a proposed constitutional amendment to declare there is no right to abortion.

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, Iowa’s other Republican senator, is poised to introduce a bill that would ban abortions in all states after six weeks into a pregnancy, the Washington Post reported. Grassley declined to say whether he would support that legislation.

Grassley was most forceful Wednesday about the leak of the draft opinion to Politico — which published it on Monday — saying the confidential nature of the high court’s deliberations should be preserved.

“This leak must be investigated quickly and thoroughly,” Grassley said, “and anybody that has violated the rules should be fired and if they’re a lawyer, be debarred. And if it’s a criminal act, prosecuted.”

Some Senate Democrats have said they were misled by justices during pre-confirmation interviews about whether the Roe decision was safe from reconsideration as a long-established legal precedent.

“Several of these conservative justices, who are in no way accountable to the American people, have lied to the U.S. Senate, ripped up the Constitution and defiled both precedent and the Supreme Court’s reputation – all at the expense of tens of millions of women who could soon be stripped of their bodily autonomy and the constitutional rights they’ve relied on for half a century,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said in a joint statement.

Grassley said Wednesday, “I don’t think they misled us,” and he pointed to the overturning of an 1896 Supreme Court decision that allowed racial segregation for more than 50 years as an example that legal precedents aren’t absolute.

“Nobody today would try to justify ‘separate but equal’ just because it was a precedent,” he said.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.

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