Hobby Lobby supporters react to the U.S. Supreme Court decision June 30, 2014 in Washington, DC. The high court ruled in a 5-4 decision in favor of Hobby Lobby saying that some private companies can be exempted, on religious grounds, from health care reform’s requirement that employer sponsored health insurance policies cover contraception. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Following the surprising response from the three GOP candidates for Michigan attorney general on a nearly 60-year-old landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision on contraception, Michigan House Democrats have introduced a resolution affirming that the case was decided correctly.
On Tuesday, state Rep. Felicia Brabec (D-Pittsfield) introduced the resolution in support of the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut Supreme Court decision, which barred states from restricting access to contraceptives. It was later cited as a precedent that helped lead to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide. Brabec noted the pivotal connection the Griswold decision had on abortion rights, and that “overturning Roe v. Wade begins with undermining the decisions that paved the way for it.”
It’s unclear whether the GOP-led House will take action on the non-binding resolution. HR 247 was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
The resolution in support of Griswold follows the Feb. 18 GOP forum held at Alpena Community College, in which all three candidates — former House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt), state Rep. Ryan Berman (R-Commerce Twp.) and Kalamazoo-based attorney Matthew DePerno — indicated they thought the issue was wrongly decided and trampled on states’ rights.
After seeking clarification as to what the Griswold decision was, Leonard stated he believed it to be “wrongly decided” and that “was an issue that trampled states’ rights and it was an issue that should have been left up to the states.”
Berman also indicated that he was unaware of the decision, but after appearing to look it up on his phone said that while he needed to look more into the decision and its reasoning, he was “all about states’ rights and limiting federal, and especially federal, judicial activism.”
DePerno, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump — who held a fundraiser for him this week — and is known for espousing 2020 election conspiracy theories, took it a step further, saying that the Griswold and Roe decisions were states’ right issues and predicted that the U.S. Supreme Court would rule that “the privacy issue currently is unworkable,” adding that as attorneys general, they needed to more vigorously defend states’ rights.
“Too many people, even in our own party, too many people have lost the idea of what states’ rights means,” DePerno said. “They haven’t read the works of our Founding Fathers. They haven’t read ‘The Federalist Papers.’ They continue to push the idea that we need to give rights away to the federal government. We don’t. We need to take state rights back. We need to stand in our borders. When the feds come and try to take our rights, we need to stand as citizens in Michigan and hold the line and protect states’ rights.”
The three Republicans are seeking to challenge in 2022 Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel, who called their position “terrifying.” She is a strong supporter of reproductive rights and the right to contraception.
State Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia), chair of the Progressive Women’s Caucus, was steadfast in her condemnation of that position.
“Let me be clear: The government does not belong in the exam room,” she said. “Griswold v. Connecticut ruled that states do not have the right to restrict access to contraception. The constitutional right to privacy is fundamental and cherished by all Americans.”
Pohutsky told Michigan Advance it was also alarming that none of the candidates seeking to become Michigan’s top law enforcement officer seemed knowledgeable about the decision.
“This is a landmark case,” said Pohutsky. “It is a case that also had implications for other subsequent landmark cases. So, it was troubling to me that they seemed unfamiliar with it. And what was also troubling to me is that, in general, it is always a bad idea to fake questions like this. Granted, it would be tremendously embarrassing to admit that you don’t know the answer on such a prominent case, but I think that it just makes it even worse when you pretend that you do and make up an answer on the fly.”
State Rep. Christine Morse (D-Texas Twp.) added that whether or not the candidates were well versed on the Griswold decision, they should not have offered opinions that would undermine such a landmark ruling without fully understanding the implications.
“Being a law school graduate myself, I understand that unless you are practicing Constitutional Law, you may not remember the particulars of every seminal case,” Morse told the Advance. “However, as an AG candidate, you should be prepared for these types of questions, or at a very minimum, only speak to the facts about which one has actual knowledge. What is shocking is the AG candidates’ flippant acknowledgment that they would all be willing to undermine 50 years of precedent establishing a constitutional right to privacy in married couples’ contraceptive decisions. Whether they actually understood the implication of what they were saying or not, the fact that they would state as such in a debate is extremely concerning.”
To that point, Pohutsky said the states’ rights argument fits in very well with the attacks they are seeing on contraception, reproductive health and abortion access. “I do have concerns that even in the case where they may have just been trying to do a little bit of cover for themselves for being unfamiliar, this is part of a conversation that is absolutely going on,” she said. “So, I do have concerns that their answer may have actually been a little bit more telling than we would hope.”
Brabec says her resolution “would reaffirm our commitment to the laws and rights made possible by that decision. It reaffirms our belief that to take away an individual’s right to birth control is to take away the fundamental right to privacy, bodily integrity and family planning.”
Asked whether she though the resolution would be allowed to advance out of committee by GOP House leaders, Pohutsky said she certainly hoped they would see that the right to marital privacy and the right for married couples to decide whether or not they’re going to start a family was popular on both sides of the aisle. However, she wasn’t optimistic that would be the case.
“I think that this was kind of an embarrassing moment for the Republican Party, so my gut tells me that even in the instance where this was something that we could all in theory agree on and pass, for the sake of saving face it is probably just going to hang out in committee,” she said. “Which is unfortunate because I think that there’s an opportunity to actually correct whatever was mistakenly said at that debate.”
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