Days after the high court overturned the 1973 ruling, clearing the way for states to drastically reduce access to abortion or ban it outright, Harris would not say whether she thought the justices deliberately misled the public and Congress during their confirmation processes.
“Listen, it was clear to me when I was sitting in that chair as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, that they were … very likely to do what they just did. That was my perspective. That was my opinion,” she added. “And that’s why I voted like I did.”
Harris also addressed Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion, in which he called on the Supreme Court to reexamine cases on LGBTQ rights and contraception. “I definitely believe this is not over. I do. I think he just said the quiet part out loud,” Harris said of Thomas.
Kavanaugh, nominated by President Donald Trump and confirmed in 2018 by a 50-to-48 Senate vote, testified that Roe was an “important precedent of the Supreme Court that has been reaffirmed many times.”
However, during oral arguments in the case that led to Roe’s undoing, he indicated he would be open to overturning “settled law,” citing a list of “seriously wrong” Supreme Court decisions that were later reversed.
In Gorsuch’s 2017 confirmation hearing, he testified that Roe was “a precedent of the U.S. Supreme Court” and said he “would have walked out the door” if Trump had asked him to overturn it because “that’s not what judges do.”
Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) have said the two justices misrepresented their views on Roe in their testimonies and in private assurances during their nomination processes. Collins said she felt misled after she voted to confirm the justices, two of three Trump nominees who gave the court a 6-to-3 conservative majority.
Harris said Friday’s decision to overturn Roe left her “shocked” after she learned about it while flying to Illinois for an event on maternal health.
“I couldn’t believe it, because they actually did it,” she said. “The court actually took a constitutional right that has been recognized for half a century and took it from the women of America — that’s shocking when you think about it.”
As the first female vice president, Harris said the news affected her as a woman, a mother, an aunt and a godmother, and she urged all Americans to reflect on the court’s decision. “When we think about it, everyone has something at risk on this,” she added.
Although Harris did not mention Justice Amy Coney Barrett in the interview, she was present at Barrett’s confirmation hearings in 2020.
There, Barrett was also asked about Roe and testified that she was committed to obeying “all the rules of stare decisis,” the principle of respecting legal precedent when making decisions. “I promise to do that for any issue that comes up, abortion or anything else,” she added.
Collins told reporters at the time of their confirmation hearings that Gorsuch and Kavanaugh had assured her that Roe was “settled as precedent.”
Meanwhile, Manchin said in a statement: “I trusted Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh when they testified under oath that they also believed Roe v. Wade was settled legal precedent and I am alarmed they chose to reject the stability the ruling has provided for two generations of Americans.”
As for Thomas, he wrote, that “in future cases, we should reconsider all of this court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence and Obergefell.”
The 2015 Obergefell decision guaranteed same-sex couples the right to marriage, and the 2003 Lawrence decision overturned a Texas law that criminalized sex between gay people. The 1965 Griswold decision barred states from denying contraceptives to married couples.
“We have a duty to ‘correct the error’ established in those precedents,” Thomas said.
Harris said the court’s decisions had been driven by politics. “I think that is why we all must really understand the significance of what just happened. This is profound.”
President Biden has called the court’s ruling a “tragic error” and implored voters to turn out in November to elect members of Congress willing to write abortion protections into law.
Several liberal lawmakers such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) have floated the possibility that Biden could expand access to abortion on federal lands in states that ban it.
But Harris did not entertain the idea long during her conversation with CNN’s Dana Bash: “It’s not [something] right now that we are discussing.”
Instead, she reiterated the importance of electing Democrats during the midterms, listing the Senate races in Georgia, North Carolina and Colorado as opportunities for her party to pick up seats.
“We need to change the balance and have pro-choice legislators who have the power to make decisions about whether this constitutional right will be in law,” she said.
Harris, who as vice president presides over the Senate, did not mention the possibility of eliminating the filibuster to codify abortion rights.
She said the administration will protect women’s ability to travel to other states for abortions, saying that the issue is likely to go to the courts and that the administration would also “do everything” to ensure that women retain access to pills for medication abortions.
Amy B Wang contributed to this report.