OAKLAND — President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee could “eviscerate women’s freedoms for generations,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein warned, vowing to fight against any potential justice who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

With Trump expected to announce his nominee on Monday, Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate committee that will evaluate the nominee, framed the battle over retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy’s seat as a pivotal struggle for abortion rights in America.

“When it comes to protecting a women’s right to control her own body, the effect of one seat on the Court has never, ever been clearer,” Feinstein told two dozen abortion rights supporters at a Planned Parenthood event in downtown Oakland. “Based on the president’s own promises and track record, we know that women’s rights are in serious and grave danger.”

During his presidential campaign, Trump vowed to appoint justices who would overturn Roe, the four-decade-old ruling striking down most abortion bans. Kennedy was the court’s swing vote, and legal observers believe most of the potential nominees Trump has listed could provide the fifth vote to end Roe and allow some states to ban abortion.

But Feinstein acknowledged that Democrats, who are a minority in the Senate, won’t be able to block the nominee by themselves. She said she and her colleagues on the Judiciary Committee will “point out all the pitfalls and all the problems” with Trump’s nominee, and reiterated a call for hearings to be postponed until after the midterm elections — which Republican leadership has refused to do.

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The five-term senator said she hasn’t spoken about the court fight with Sen. Susan Collins of Maine or Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, two pro-choice Republicans who could be the deciding votes on Trump’s nominee. But she suggested that the women have a “responsibility” to prevent the confirmation of a justice who’d overturn Roe.

“I do know that they’re pro-choice, and pro-choice is a responsibility, and it in a sense is our birthright as women,” Feinstein said.

Some legal observers believe Feinstein herself helped elevate one of the most conservative options on Trump’s shortlist: Amy Coney Barrett, a Catholic law professor who Feinstein pushed hard during a nomination hearing for an appeals court position last year, arguing her religious views would impact her rulings.

“The dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern,” Feinstein told Barrett in an exchange that went viral in conservative circles. Trump later added Barrett, who’s been on the bench less than a year, to his list of potential Supreme Court nominees.

“You can make the case that if she is nominated to the Supreme Court that she will have Feinstein in part to thank for that,” conservative commentator Ramesh Ponnuru told Politico this week.

Feinstein declined to say Friday whether she thought her questioning of Barrett helped boost the jurist’s chances. “I don’t speak about what I’m going to do normally before somebody is heard, before we have a chance to see all the information,” she said.

The battle over the Supreme Court vacancy has raised the stakes even higher for this year’s midterm elections as Democrats try to take control of Congress. Feinstein faces her own re-election fight from within the party, as state Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, challenges her to hew to a more progressive platform. De León has argued that Feinstein and her Democratic Senate colleagues didn’t do enough to push back against Trump’s first Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch, saying they “effectively surrendered the judicial branch of our government” in 2016.

Feinstein also said Friday that she would fight against a Trump administration proposal to change the rules for Title X, a federal program that funds family planning clinics and health services. In May, the White House proposed changes to the program that would prevent funding for clinics that refer patients to abortion providers unless a woman “clearly states that she has already decided to have an abortion.”

Abortion rights advocates say the measure amounts to a “gag rule” preventing health care providers funded through Title X — including many Planned Parenthood clinics — from giving their patients information about abortion access. Public comment on the rule change is due at the end of the month.

Crystal Strait, the president of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, said the administration’s moves on abortion rights represent “a tipping in balance toward anti-liberty, anti-women, anti-freedom ideology,” accusing the administration of “stacking the courts to overturn” Roe v. Wade.

Despite her warnings about the erosion of women’s rights, Feinstein said she was encouraged by the number of women running for Congress and other elected offices around the state and the country. She was first elected in 1992 in the same year as several other female senators.

“For the first time since I was elected, which was some time ago, we are poised to finally have another ‘Year of the Woman’ this November,” she said, predicting threats to abortion rights would bring more women voters to the polls.


(c)2018 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)

Visit the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.) at www.eastbaytimes.com

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