Minnesotans are evenly split on the U.S. Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh in a new Star Tribune-MPR News Minnesota Poll taken before an allegation of sexual assault against him surfaced.
In the poll conducted Sept. 10-12, 40 percent supported President Donald Trump’s choice for the nation’s high court, while 39 percent were opposed. Another 21 percent were undecided on Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Late Sunday, the Washington Post reported that a California college professor is alleging Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both high school students in the 1980s. Her account is roiling the Trump White House’s efforts to get Kavanaugh confirmed to the Supreme Court, where he is seen as likely to move its balance of power to the right by forming a majority conservative bloc on many issues.
That could have major ramifications for the future of Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide. And, while the poll identified mixed feelings about Kavanaugh, it found a strong statewide majority in favor of keeping Roe vs. Wade in place.
Support for Roe vs. Wade is at 59 percent statewide and is above 50 percent in every region of the state. Only a small minority statewide, 12 percent, said the law should be overturned, while 26 percent said it should be modified.
The poll is based on interviews with 800 likely voters, 40 percent by cellphone and 60 percent by landline. It has a margin of sampling error of 3.5 percentage points, plus or minus.
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Kavanaugh, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, could become the swing vote on the fate of the 45-year-old Roe decision. Overturning it has been a long-held goal of abortion opponents.
In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Kavanaugh called Roe vs. Wade’s right to abortion settled law and an “important precedent.” But supporters of legal abortion are worried that he would still side with the court’s more conservative justices in allowing government to put stricter limits on access.
“There shouldn’t be such a rush to put him on the bench,” said Alison Greydanus, a trucking company manager who lives in New York Mills and participated in the poll.
Greydanus, 47, said she supports the Roe decision: “It’s my right to decide what I do with my body. That’s a basic human right.”
For some polled, support for Roe vs. Wade didn’t mean opposition to Kavanaugh.
“There are situations where [abortion is] necessary,” said Richard Gross, an 83-year-old retiree from Barnesville and a Republican. “At the same time, I’m in favor of Mr. Kavanaugh. I don’t think we have to worry about overturning Roe versus Wade.”
Glen Davis wants it overturned and he wants Kavanaugh on the court. The 78-year-old minister from Fairmont said abortion is his number one issue as a voter.
“We need judges, not lawmakers. I think he’s a good man. I think he’d support the Constitution,” Davis said, adding that abortion is not the only factor in his support for Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh found his highest support in northern Minnesota, the part of the state where Trump has proved most consistently popular, and where 50 percent of those polled back the nomination. He was at his lowest ebb in the DFL strongholds of Hennepin and Ramsey counties, at 30 percent support. His support is also highly polarized by political party: 96 percent of Republicans want Kavanaugh confirmed, and just 3 percent of Democrats do.
Support for Roe vs. Wade is higher in Hennepin and Ramsey counties and among women and Democrats. In the Minnesota Poll, 70 percent of those surveyed in Hennepin and Ramsey support keeping the law, compared to 51 percent in the rest of the Twin Cities, 52 percent in northern Minnesota and 59 percent in southern Minnesota. Among the 12 percent of Minnesotans surveyed who want the law completely overturned, the percentage — 15 percent — was highest among northern and southern Minnesota participants.
Party divides reared up in views of Roe vs. Wade, but to a lesser extent. While 80 percent of Democrats want the law to stay and zero want it overturned, 28 percent of Republicans want it to stay in place, 40 percent want it modified and 30 percent want it overturned.
Minnesota’s two U.S. senators, Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Abortion rights supporters have pointed to a 2003 e-mail that Kavanaugh wrote as a lawyer in George W. Bush’s White House, where he said that he wasn’t sure “that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since Court can always overrule its precedent, and three current Justices on the Court would do so.” According to the New York Times, Kavanaugh dismissed that e-mail, saying he was reflecting “an accurate description of all legal scholars,” not expressing his own opinion.
Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and the Dakotas, said the Senate’s decision on Kavanaugh would “determine our fate for generations to come.” She said the organization’s job would be to make sure those who support Roe vs. Wade see a link between Roe’s future and the way they vote in November
Bill Poehler, communications director for Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, which opposes abortion, said he’s skeptical that Roe vs. Wade support is as broad as the Minnesota Poll suggested. He said people who hear more details of abortion rates in the years since the 1973 ruling are less likely to be supportive.
“Most people would have a hard time naming even a recent Supreme Court case,” Poehler said. “The fact that Roe continues to be discussed 45 years later and is central to confirmation hearings indicates that the public is not comfortable with the ruling.”
Kelly Martinson, a freelance writer from St. Paul who took part in the poll, said the latest allegation against Kavanaugh should disqualify him from the Supreme Court.
“It’s always tough when things come up from so long ago, but I understand fully and completely why those things are buried for 30 years,” said Martinson, who said she is a survivor of sexual abuse.
Calling Kavanaugh’s comment on Roe vs. Wade “wishy-washy and unclear,” Martinson said she’s worried about the ruling’s future.
“I’d like to believe it’s settled law,” she said, but conservatives “have been working for a long time to stack the courts.”
Were the Supreme Court to strike down Roe vs. Wade, it’s likely that decisions on abortion laws would return to the states. Davis, the retired minister who participated in the poll, said he hopes Minnesota would outlaw it.
“Let the states decide instead of the federal government,” Davis said. “I’m 100 percent for life.”