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GOP senators grill Biden judicial nominee over past abortion advocacy

Republican senators on Wednesday went after Biden judicial nominee Julie Rikelman over her past work at a leading abortion advocacy organization.

Rikelman, who has been nominated to serve on the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, represented the Mississippi abortion clinic at the center of this year’s Supreme Court case that resulted in the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

The former legal director of the Center for Reproductive Rights told senators at Wednesday’s nomination hearing that she believes she can separate her previous advocacy work from her potential work as a judge. 

Rikelman also promised to follow all Supreme Court precedent, including the high court’s decision in the Mississippi abortion case that she argued, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

“I will apply Dobbs faithfully,” she said. “Our legal system and the rule of law itself depends on lower federal courts following Supreme Court precedent, and as you said, Dobbs is now the law of the land and I will follow it, as I will follow all Supreme Court precedent.”

However, Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee called into question several statements that Rikelman made while working as an advocate.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) asked Rikelman to explain a statement in a report she contributed to that called the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision “egregiously wrong,” while Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) interrogated her about a 2018 op-ed that called pregnancy resource centers “faux clinics.”

“Is your testimony here that these folks are lying under oath … that these centers are all fake?” Hawley asked, noting that individuals from pregnancy centers had previously testified before Congress.

Rikelman maintained throughout the questioning that those statements were made in her capacity as an advocate and represented the views of her organization.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) — who called the nominee an “extreme zealot” — had a heated exchange with Rikelman after she refused to answer questions about her personal views on abortion. 

Rikelman initially answered Cruz by noting that her work as an advocate followed Supreme Court precedent on abortion.

“I didn’t ask what the law was,” Cruz said. “I asked what your belief was … What do you believe?”

“The code of judicial conduct does specifically say that it would be inappropriate to share any personal views as a nominee because it would suggest that I could prejudge issues,” Rikelman said, after a back-and-forth debate with the senator.

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