Last month, the White House gave Kentucky’s Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear a heads-up that President Joe Biden would nominate for the federal judiciary an anti-abortion Republican and former lawyer for the right-winger Beshear succeeded as governor.
But the day the White House intended to submit the nomination, according to emails released by Beshear’s office and obtained by the Louisville Courier-Journal, was June 24, the same day the Supreme Court handed down its decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
The emails add another twist to a saga that has infuriated progressives and become emblematic of the Biden administration’s flat-footed and weak response to the court unilaterally revoking the 50-year-old national right to have an abortion.
The White House had informed Rep. John Yarmuth, Kentucky’s lone Democrat in Congress, that Biden intended to nominate lawyer Chad Meredith to become a district judge in the Eastern District of Kentucky, the Courier-Journal reported last week. As former Gov. Matt Bevin’s top counsel, Meredith defended abortion restrictions. Later, as solicitor general, he fought to limit Beshear’s executive authority, according to Bloomberg Law.
The potential move was reportedly part of a deal struck between Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is from Kentucky, to let other Biden nominations through. The terms of the deal have not been confirmed, but a source with knowledge of the deal told Slate the deal was a promise not to stop the confirmation of two U.S. attorneys in exchange for Meredith — effectively two temporary political appointees for a lifetime seat on the federal bench.
The White House has repeatedly refused to confirm or deny the nomination (or the deal), but on Tuesday, Beshear’s office released “privileged” emails from the White House informing them of the move.
On June 23, White House aide Kathleen Marshall emailed an aide in Beshear’s D.C. office that read: “To be nominated tomorrow: … Stephen Chad Meredith: candidate for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky,” according to the Courier-Journal.
Meredith’s nomination has still not been submitted. The day after Marshall’s email, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
On June 29, the White House aide sent the Beshear aide another email. “Sorry for not including this in the original e-mail, but I wanted to clarify that the e-mail I sent was pre-decisional and privileged information,” Marshall wrote. “Please let me know if you have any questions.”
Beshear and Yarmuth have publicly denounced the White House’s intention to nominate Meredith, who worked on controversial pardons Bevin issued during his final days in office, including people convicted of murder and child sex abuse.
“I mean, these are individuals who were pardoned who are walking free today, despite committing terrible violent crimes,” Beshear said last week. “Seeing this, I don’t know how the president could say he’s for public safety.”
The scheduling of Meredith’s nomination on the day the Dobbs decision was handed down adds to growing evidence that the White House was caught totally unawares by the timing of that SCOTUS ruling. White House counsel Dana Remus—a former Supreme Court clerk for conservative Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the Dobbs opinion—told senior aides the same morning the Supreme Court issued its decision that the Supreme Court wouldn’t issue its decision that day, CNN reported Tuesday.
But even outside of the Meredith nomination, the White House has taken on a wave of criticism from progressives for its reluctance to use and stretch the full power of the executive branch to protect abortion rights.
The White House immediately shot down a proposal floated by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to build abortion clinics on federal land, and much of the White House’s messaging has focused on the November midterms rather than actions Biden can take now. On Tuesday, for example, Biden tweeted that “Roe is on the ballot” in November—even though Roe functionally no longer exists.
A coalition of pro-choice groups including the National Women’s Law Center, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and NARAL Pro-Choice America issued a statement Tuesday denouncing a potential Meredith nomination.
“Chad Meredith should not be nominated to a lifetime judgeship,” the groups said in a statement to the Courier-Journal. “This is unacceptable at any time, but especially on the heels of six Supreme Court justices taking away a fundamental right from millions of people.”
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