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Asked about contraception case, GOP candidates give the wrong answer

In 1965, the Supreme Court struck down a law that limited married couples’ access to birth control. How many Republicans think the justices got this wrong?


After the Affordable Care Act became law, its Republican opponents attacked it from a variety of angles, including an unexpected one: GOP officials were determined to roll back the reform law’s provisions related to contraception access.

In fact, it was exactly 10 years ago next week when the Senate narrowly defeated a proposal, known as the Blunt Amendment, intended to allow all U.S. employers to deny contraception coverage to employees as part of the businesses’ health plans.

A decade later, the issue isn’t dominating the public discourse, but it hasn’t disappeared altogether, either. Mother Jones had this report over the weekend:

The final question from the audience at Friday night’s debate for the Republican candidates for Michigan attorney general was as straightforward as it gets: “How do each of you stand on Griswold v. Connecticut?”

As plenty of non-lawyers probably know, Griswold was a landmark case in modern American history. In 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-to-2 ruling, struck down a Connecticut law that restricted married couples’ access to birth control. The court majority said such statutes are impermissible because they violate Americans’ right to privacy.

This was the first time the justices had ever acknowledged the existence of a constitutional right to privacy, and it had a dramatic effect on American jurisprudence, including helping lay the foundation for the Roe v. Wade ruling eight years later.

Oddly enough, during Friday night’s debate in Michigan, it seemed none of the Republicans who want to serve as the state attorney general recognized the Griswold v. Connecticut case by name. One of the candidates even pulled out a phone to look it up during the debate.

The fact that they were stumped by the question was itself discouraging. This was hardly a pop quiz about an obscure ruling from the 19th century.

But more important was the fact that each of the Michigan Republicans, upon learning about the ruling, expressed their disagreement with the court precedent. Tom Leonard, a former state House speaker, said, “This case, much like Roe v. Wade, I believe was wrongly decided, because it was an issue that trampled states’ rights and it was an issue that should have been left up to the states.”

State Rep. Ryan Berman, who used his phone, added, “I would have to look more into it and the reasoning behind it, but I’m all about states’ rights and limiting federal judicial activism.”

Matthew DePerno, the Trump-endorsed candidate, concluded, “Listen, all these cases that deal — Griswold, Roe v. Wade, Dobbs — these are all state right issues.... It’s going to be a state right issue on all of these things — as it should be!”

Remember, the issue was about a law that limited married couples’ access to birth control. The Supreme Court said such a law was impermissible, and the Republicans who want to be Michigan’s attorney general are convinced the justices got this wrong — because as these GOP candidates see it, if a state wants to restrict married couples’ access to contraception, the state should be allowed to do exactly that, since a constitutional right to privacy does not exist.

Perhaps Republicans in other states should answer the same question?

The conventional wisdom holds that the culture war is an albatross for Democrats in the 2022 midterm cycle. President Joe Biden and his party appear eager to focus on so-called “kitchen table” issues — such as unemployment and health care — but election analysts believe it’s Republicans who are likely to capitalize on hot-button issues.

Those predictions may very well come true. The fact remains, however, that Republicans have some vulnerabilities of their own on social issues. Most Americans may not know the Griswold v. Connecticut case by name, but I suspect a clear majority of voters would agree with the justices’ decision. Similarly, the right’s book-banning campaign has plenty of mainstream skeptics, and the Supreme Court’s expected ruling on reproductive rights is likely to be quite unpopular.

Last summer, the Republican Study Committee’s issued an unsubtle memo that was quite literally titled, “Lean into the culture war.” The document added, “We are in a culture war ... we are winning.”

Whether that advantage continues remains to be seen.