Pro-life activists up pressure on Donnelly in multi-million-dollar push for Supreme Court pick

By Erica Irish

INDIANAPOLIS — A multi-million-dollar surge across states where Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanagh’s confirmation hangs in the balance is intensifying in Indiana, with Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly the target of several groups committed to securing Kavanuagh’s place on the bench.

Among those ranks are pro-life activists, partisan lobbyists and judicial networks that have been on the search for a conservative, constitutionalist justice for years. And now, it seems, they’ve found the man for the job.

But Donnelly has yet to be pinned down on where he stands on the nominee, and it appears he is prepared to take time to review Kavanaugh, who he plans to meet Aug. 15.  

Sue Liebel, Indiana chair of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, spoke to those gathered outside Sen. Joe Donnelly’s Indiana office to urge him to vote for Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court. Provided photo

“Senator Donnelly has consistently said he would carefully review Judge Kavanaugh’s record, meet with him, and follow his Senate confirmation hearing,” Sarah Rothschild, Donnelly’s communications director, said in a statement. “The Senator is continuing to thoroughly examine Judge Kavanaugh’s record and looks forward to sitting down with him next week.”

Kavanaugh advocates crowded outside the senator’s downtown office early Monday with one demand—that the congressman, who has served in office since 2013, listen to his constituents and vote yes at the judge’s looming confirmation hearing. Meanwhile, Donnelly toured worksites, restaurants and his field offices in southern and south-central Indiana as part of his summer campaign tour.

Several pro-life activists, including Sue Liebel, Indiana’s chair of national anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, spoke at the event as part of a larger bid to pressure Democratic senators in majority-red states to confirm the 53-year-old judge.

Liebel called Kavanaugh a strict constitutionalist, and said that his prior decisions indicate he will interpret the constitution as written rather than encourage, in her view, activism in the judiciary.

“People are tired of activism in the courts system,” she said.

And this is especially true for Hoosiers, Liebel argues. She claims that Donnelly, who in 2015 voted in favor of a measure to allocate additional tax dollars to Planned Parenthood initiatives, has fallen out of touch with his “decidedly pro-life” state.

A poll commissioned by her organization and conducted by the Tarrance Group, a Republican data collection firm, argues that 65 percent of Indiana’s citizenry would prefer state-level rules for abortion practices, not a universal ruling by the Supreme Court. A reported 56 percent said they would want Donnelly to approve Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Sen. Joe Donnelly, pictured earlier this year,  is being pressured by anti-abortion groups to support President Trump’s latest pick for the Supreme Court. Photo by Abrahm Hurt,

Officials for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana and Kentucky, the political arm of the healthcare-focused Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, argue otherwise.

“Americans do not want to see this happen. More than 70 percent of Americans support access to abortion, including a majority of Democrats, Independents and Republicans,” said Christie Gillespie, CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana and Kentucky, citing a separate report by PerryUndem, an independent organization that provides research services.

The country is on a cliff overlooking fundamental changes, Gillespie argues—”and appointing Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court would tip it over the edge.”

Since Justice Anthony Kennedy’s sudden retirement June 23, groups have committed millions of dollars for and against Kavanaugh’s appointment.

In particular, leaders behind the Susan B. Anthony List said they will spend an estimated $2 to $3 million on their #ConfirmKavanaugh mission, which includes door-to-door “voter education,” public demonstrations and a mix of digital and televised advertisements in battleground states. They report to have visited 258,000 Indiana homes since last October, before the Supreme Court vacancy.

“That’s why we’re fighting like hell to protect access to abortion, contraception, and reproductive health care for all Hoosiers and Americans,” said Gillespie.

But not all of the groups are focused on abortion rights.

America First Policies, an advocacy group acting on behalf of decisions made by President Donald Trump, plans to spend $1.2 million in the next month on campaigns targeting key senators’ votes, including Sens. Donnelly, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, according to a report by CNN’s Politico.

Spending by the Judicial Crisis Network has reached a reported $4.3 million, around half of which was used to advertise in red states with Democratic incumbents.

On the other side of the political divide, Demand Justice, a coalition similar to the Judicial Crisis Network founded in 2018, is wagering more than $5 million on advertising, according to the New York Times. The organization confirmed that it should raise an estimated $10 million in its first year, all of which would fund efforts to appoint Democratic-leaning justices.

“Tell Senate Democrats: Oppose Brett Kavanaugh” is the slogan Demand Justice is directing at those in positions like Donnelly’s. Their sticking point for opposition, however, falls on Kavanaugh’s claim that presidents can terminate independent investigations at will. That could signify a threat to the ongoing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into alleged collusion between President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russian intelligence.

“We know that Donald Trump thinks that nominating Brett Kavanaugh gives him an insurance policy in case the Mueller investigation leads to a showdown at the Supreme Court,” reads a claim on Demand Justice’s website.

Erica Irish is a reporter for, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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