WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama, treading carefully in the explosive arena of abortion and the Supreme Court, said Wednesday he will choose a nominee who pays heed to the rights of women and the privacy of their bodies. Yet he said he won’t enforce any abortion rights “litmus tests.”
Obama said it is “very important to me” that his court choice take women’s rights into account in interpreting the Constitution, his most expansive comments yet about how a woman’s right to choose will factor into his decision.
He plans to choose someone to succeed Justice John Paul Stevens within “the next couple weeks,” he told CNBC.
Obama accelerated his political outreach and his conversations with candidates, positioning himself for one of the most consequential decisions of his presidency. He invited Republican and Democratic Senate leaders to discuss the issue at the White House and commented briefly to reporters before their private meeting.
His rejection of the idea of “litmus tests” was standard presidential language, protecting his eventual nominee from charges of bringing preconceived decisions to the bench.
When asked if he could nominate someone who did not support a woman’s right to choose, Obama said: “I am somebody who believes that women should have the ability to make often very difficult decisions about their own bodies and issues of reproduction.”
He said he would not judge candidates on a single-issue test.
“But I will say that I want somebody who is going to be interpreting our Constitution in a way that takes into account individual rights, and that includes women’s rights,” Obama said. “And that’s going to be something that’s very important to me, because I think part of what our core constitutional values promote is the notion that individuals are protected in their privacy and their bodily integrity.”
Obama’s language largely meshed with what he said during the presidential campaign. In a Democratic primary debate in November 2007, he was asked whether he would insist that a Supreme Court nominee support abortion rights. He said then: “I would not appoint somebody who doesn’t believe in the right to privacy.”
Obama sought a cooperative tone with his Republican critics even as the White House braces for a confirmation fight.
In the Oval Office, Obama hosted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the committee.
McConnell and Sessions promised to give Obama’s nominee fair treatment. Yet in a joint statement, they sternly warned against any nominee who would “enter the courtroom with preconceived outcomes in mind, or work to arrive at the preferred result of any president or political party.”