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Opinion As the March for Life returns, we owe Brett Kavanaugh a debt of gratitude

Antiabortion activists march outside the Supreme Court building during the 2022 March for Life. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
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Friday marks the first March for Life since the Supreme Court’s historic decision overturning Roe v. Wade. For millions of pro-life Americans, it is a moment to celebrate a victory for the Constitution and for the sanctity of human life.

There are many people to thank for making that victory possible. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) skillfully managed the confirmation processes that produced the court’s 6-3 conservative majority. President George W. Bush appointed Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., the author of the landmark opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. And President Donald Trump put three outstanding conservatives on the high court — the first Republican president to have a perfect record on Supreme Court appointments.

Marc A. Thiessen: For the fall of Roe v. Wade, thank Donald Trump

But one person has endured more, and suffered more, than perhaps any other public official to bring us to this day: Brett M. Kavanaugh. Indeed, I can think of no one in recent memory who has withstood more personally to do their duty as a public servant.

Democrats filibustered Neil M. Gorsuch’s nomination in 2017 out of anger over McConnell’s refusal to confirm then-President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, to replace Antonin Scalia the year before. But Gorsuch was a conservative justice replacing a conservative justice. His confirmation did not alter the ideological composition of the court.

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Kavanaugh’s nomination was different. His appointment in 2018 to replace the retiring Justice Anthony M. Kennedy — a swing vote who had stood as the “firewall” protecting Roe — would shift the court’s ideological balance to the right likely for a generation. So, Democrats set out not simply to stop Kavanaugh but to destroy him.

What ensued was a smear campaign of unprecedented scope and scale. Four years later, I will not repeat the scurrilous charges leveled at him (you can read what I wrote at the time here). But suffice it to say, no smash-mouth tactic, no depraved, slanderous, unsupported accusation was too extreme. In their intentional strategy of character assassination, Senate Democrats violated every standard of fairness, due process and decency. The ordeal affected not only Kavanaugh but also his family, including his two young daughters.

A lesser man might have said: This isn’t worth it. But Kavanaugh didn’t back down. Instead, he fought back — telling senators they were presiding over a “circus” that had become an “embarrassment” and a “national disgrace.” And he warned that, by putting him through an unprecedented gantlet of personal destruction, Democrats had set a dangerous precedent for future nominees: “You sowed the wind for decades to come,” he said. “I fear that the whole country will reap the whirlwind.”

In the end, the smear campaign backfired. Kavanaugh was confirmed. And the spectacle was so offensive to the American people it cost Democrats their chance to regain control of the Senate in 2018 and gave Republicans an expanded majority — which later allowed them to confirm another conservative, Amy Coney Barrett, to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg after her death in 2020.

But the abuse did not end there. In 2020, as Kavanaugh and his fellow justices listened to arguments in a major abortion case, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), then the minority leader, thundered at a rally on the Supreme Court steps: “I want to tell you, Kavanaugh: You have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price. You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.” His comments drew a rare rebuke from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who issued a statement declaring that “threatening statements of this sort … are not only inappropriate, they are dangerous.” (Schumer later apologized.)

We saw just how dangerous in May, after a leaked draft of the court’s Dobbs decision was published. Throngs of protesters descended on Kavanaugh’s home, shouting, “If you take away our choices, we will riot.” The Biden Justice Department failed to enforce a federal law that explicitly prohibits this behavior with the intent to influence a judge. The next month, a would-be assassin arrived by taxi at Kavanaugh’s doorstep armed with a Glock 17, two magazines and ammunition, a tactical knife, pepper spray, a hammer, a screwdriver, a crowbar, zip ties, and duct tape. He was indicted on a charge of attempted murder. While not mentioning Schumer, McConnell correctly pointed out that this “is exactly the kind of event that many worried the unhinged, reckless, apocalyptic rhetoric from prominent figures toward the Court … could make more likely.”

But in the face of even threatened assassination, Kavanaugh once again did not back down. He voted to overturn Roe, reversing one of the most egregiously wrong Supreme Court decisions in history and putting the power of how to regulate abortion back in the hands of the American people, where it belongs.

It took enormous courage for every justice to resist political pressures and do what they believed the Constitution required. Kavanaugh endured more than political pressure — he withstood attempts to destroy his character and take his life. He’s a hero. And every American who believes in judicial restraint and a culture of life owes him a debt of gratitude.