On the afternoon of June 27, Gretchen Whitmer was walking into a fundraiser when she got the text from a friend: “I cannot believe about Kennedy,” it read. Over the next few hours, the former prosecutor running to be Michigan’s next Democratic governor caught up on the news that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy was retiring. “The enormity of it swept over me during the course of this event,” Whitmer says.
In the weeks that followed she released a plan to protect women’s reproductive rights by, among other proposals, repealing the state’s law criminalizing abortion that could be enforced if Roe v. Wade is overturned. “If the Supreme Court takes action, we in Michigan have no protections or ability to choose,” she says. “And so we’ve got to change the law, and that means we’ve got to win this governor’s race.”
For Democrats, the loss of Kennedy’s swing vote represents a major shift in the country’s legal landscape. In the likely event that Trump’s nominee Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed later this year—his confirmation hearing will start the day after Labor Day—the Supreme Court will shift to a solid 5-4 conservative majority.
In what was already a critical election cycle, Kavanaugh’s nomination raises the stakes for Democrats in gubernatorial races, positioning them as something of a last line of defense for a host of liberal causes that could be threatened by a more conservative court, including abortion access, collective bargaining, and voting rights.
Read More: Bloomberg, August 29, 2018