Progressive Senators Ready To Help Confirm 2 Anti-Choice Trump Judges

Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth are backing nominees who questioned Roe v. Wade and worked with groups trying to end abortion rights. Why?
Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both Democrats, are usually strong advocates for women's reproductive rights.
Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both Democrats, are usually strong advocates for women's reproductive rights.
Joe Raedle via Getty Images

WASHINGTON ― Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth are progressive Illinois senators who support abortion rights. They both scored the full 100 points on NARAL Pro-Choice America’s 2019 congressional scorecard. And in the coming weeks, they are ready to help confirm two of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees who have records of hostility to women’s reproductive rights and Roe v. Wade.

The Democratic senators praised Stephen McGlynn and David Dugan when Trump nominated them to lifetime federal court seats last December and February, respectively. Both have been picked for seats on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.

“We are pleased that the President has nominated Judge Stephen McGlynn,” Durbin and Duckworth said in a joint statement last December. “He has the qualifications, integrity, and judgment to serve with distinction as a district court judge in the Southern District of Illinois. We appreciate the Administration’s willingness to work with us and with our nonpartisan screening committee to reach consensus on nominees who will serve the people of Illinois well. We look forward to guiding his nomination through the Senate.”

They issued a similar joint statement for Dugan in February.

But their public support glosses over McGlynn’s and Dugan’s opposition to abortion rights, which is odd considering that both senators are known for being strong supporters of women’s rights.

Durbin and Duckworth are certainly hampered in choosing federal judicial nominees. By Senate custom, senators and presidents work together in naming federal district court judges for each senator’s state. Under the agreed-upon selection process for Illinois, the president’s party gets to pick candidates for three out of every four district court vacancies, the other party picks the fourth candidate, and both parties agree to a package where all four nominees move forward together. That’s the context for McGlynn and Dugan, both of whom were picked by Republicans in a package of four district court nominees. (The other two nominees are GOP pick Iain Johnston and Democratic pick Franklin Valderrama for seats on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.)

What’s surprising, though, is that the Democratic senators agreed to this package and will help confirm two lifetime federal judges strongly opposed by reproductive rights groups.

“Some have argued it should have been someone else. It was not my choice nor the choice of Sen. Duckworth,” Durbin said in opening remarks at McGlynn and Dugan’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in June. “It was a decision by [Illinois GOP Rep. John] Shimkus and the Republican delegation that led to these nominees.”

Requests for comment from the senators’ offices were not returned.

McGlynn, who is currently an Illinois state judge, was a member of the Illinois Federation for Right to Life in 2007, a nonprofit group that describes itself as “working to end abortion” since 1973. As a candidate for a state judicial seat in 2012, McGlynn was endorsed by the Illinois Federation for Right-to-Life PAC and the Illinois Citizens for Life PAC.

McGlynn also chaired the platform and resolution committee for the Illinois Republican Party in 2004. That year, the party’s platform stated, “From the first beat of a heart to the last breath drawn, we recognize each individual’s dignity and worth. Government is obligated, by law and by deed, to protect and defend each individual’s right to life, not only from government action, but also against a threat from another. The right to life is of such primacy that no government entity nor any person shall be allowed to take another’s life without due process of law and only under the most compelling and grave circumstances. Government must defend and protect those who by age, disability or other affliction cannot protect themselves. This includes the protection of the unborn child.”

Asked about this language last month by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, McGlynn said the platform was a political document with input from lots of GOP officials. But Charlie Johnston, a conservative blogger in Illinois and friend of McGlynn’s, wrote in 2008 that “it was McGlynn who did the writing” and that it was “the most comprehensively pro-life platform in the nation.”

Dugan, also currently an Illinois state judge, wrote in a 2018 judicial candidate survey for Illinois Right to Life Action that he had “been deeply involved in various organizations as a pro-life advocate” and that he questioned the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade.

“My belief is that life begins at conception and that from that moment forward, taking that child’s life is the taking of a human life,” Dugan said.

“For a number of reasons, the case of Roe v. Wade is sorely misplaced,” he continued. The Supreme Court decision is established law, he said, but “even with that, I do not believe that the Illinois Constitution, independent of the United States Constitution, provides a sound basis for expansion of the right of privacy to the same extent” as laid out in Roe v. Wade.

Dugan also said in the survey that he supported restrictions on young women’s access to abortion because they may be “presumably very emotional and maybe even irrational.”

The judge was a co-founder of Illinois Vision 2020, a nonprofit whose goal is to “end abortion in Illinois by 2020” and which partners with the Illinois Federation for Right to Life.

Asked about his past comments on Roe v. Wade during his June confirmation hearing, Dugan said, “You do have my word and you do have my record that I will follow precedent and I will follow the law and I always have.”

The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on McGlynn’s and Dugan’s nominations on Thursday. Durbin is on the committee, and it’s possible he’ll be the only Democrat voting to send them to the Senate floor to be confirmed.

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