On Saturday, one day after President Joe Biden signed an executive order aimed at protecting abortion rights in response to the Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, thousands assembled outside the White House to call for the president to do more.
It’s close to unforgivable that it was ever considered, regardless of whether the Biden White House goes through with it.
Biden gave an impassioned speech after signing the order, which includes some basic first steps aimed at protecting medication abortion, contraception and patient privacy. But to date he has kept quiet on news that as recently as June 23, according to a series of White House emails, he was planning to nominate Chad Meredith, a man with a strong anti-abortion record and an eager affinity for the Federalist Society, to a federal judgeship.
Biden knows judges. The former chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees judicial nomination hearings, Biden has made picking good judges a key aim of his presidency. And he’s developed a strong record thus far.
But the potential upcoming nomination of Meredith is now threatening to undermine that bright point in his presidency.
The planned nomination is reportedly part of a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. As the nation is still reeling from the decision to overturn Roe — made possible because former President Donald Trump nominated three justices who formed a majority with Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas to overturn the landmark decision — Biden owes Americans an explanation. The White House either needs to explain what the deal is and explain to Biden’s supporters why it’s worth it to put Meredith on the bench as part of that deal, or Biden needs to tell McConnell the deal is off. But continued silence on the matter is not an answer.
In the midst of the White House’s lagging and insufficient response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade and as an apparent result of his unending belief in comity in the Senate, Biden reportedly reached a deal with McConnell to nominate Meredith, described by the Louisville Courier Journal as “a conservative Republican anti-abortion lawyer,” to a lifetime-tenure federal judgeship.
More than seven weeks after the draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe leaked, the Biden White House was apparently done vetting and had decided upon nominating Meredith to a judgeship in the Eastern District of Kentucky as a part of this deal with McConnell. Meredith previously worked in senior legal positions for two statewide Republicans in Kentucky, then-Gov. Matt Bevin and current Attorney General Daniel Cameron.
The Courier Journal has been breaking almost all of the news on this story, first reporting Biden’s decision to nominate Meredith before a vacancy had even been announced in the district and most recently publishing White House emails from last month that confirm the White House’s plans. For his part, Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern reported July 1 that in exchange for Biden nominating Meredith, “McConnell will allow Biden to nominate and confirm two U.S. Attorneys to Kentucky.”
With no response to the judicial debacle and no real response to the post-Roe crisis, the Biden administration owes Americans more.
If that’s the deal, it’s close to unforgivable that it was ever considered, regardless of whether the Biden White House goes through with it. Even if it were to be a more traditional judicial package deal, where McConnell gets a judicial nominee in exchange for the White House getting a handful of judicial nominees, as I’ve written about previously, it would be difficult for a Democratic president to justify agreeing to a deal including an anti-abortion judge right now.
This is particularly so with Meredith, who would likely be indistinguishable on the bench from some of the Trumpiest of Trump judges.
As I reported, Meredith described the Federalist Society in 2021 as “one of my favorite organizations. Ever.” Kentucky Right to Life, meanwhile, posted on the organization’s blog in 2020 that the group was “very impressed” with Meredith for his work supporting “the pro-life laws passed by our General Assembly during the Bevin administration.”
Despite all of that, on June 23, a White House staffer emailed a staffer for Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, to let his office know that the White House planned to announce Meredith’s nomination the next day.
The next morning, however, the Supreme Court instead announced its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overturning Roe and ending the constitutional right to an abortion after nearly 50 years.
To be clear, Biden has focused — successfully — on changing the federal bench. He has been diversifying a bench that has historically been overwhelmingly white and male (and presumptively cis and straight). Although former President Barack Obama took significant steps to increase that demographic diversity, former President Donald Trump pushed it right back. (While just more than one-third of Obama’s judicial appointees were white men, nearly two-thirds of Trump’s appointees were white men.) Biden, in his first year and a half in office, has appointed three white men to the federal bench, out of nearly 70 confirmed judges. (Of his confirmed judges, 80% are women.) He has also aimed to diversify the professional background of the federal bench, nominating significant numbers of former public defenders, along with civil rights lawyers.
Nowhere were his judicial goals made more clear than with his appointment of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. A former public defender, she is now the first Black woman on the Supreme Court.
So, Biden really does have a lot to be proud of regarding his effort to change the courts. (Although, as Chris Kang of Demand Justice pointed out last week, Biden does need to move more quickly to nominate more judges to avert more disaster in the future.)
But as of July 5, Biden’s press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, still had no real answer about what was going on regarding Meredith’s previously planned nomination, saying some version of, “I'm just not going to comment on an open vacancy at this point,” in response to a half-dozen questions about the debacle.
It’s now been more than two weeks since the White House told Beshear that Biden was planning on nominating Meredith and since the Supreme Court overturned Roe. With no response to the judicial debacle and no real response to the post-Roe crisis, the Biden administration owes Americans more — on both fronts.