For millions of evangelical Christians, President Donald Trump’s announcement Monday night was the vision they held in their heads as they stepped into the polling booth almost two years ago: a Republican president, filling the Supreme Court with more conservative justices who might drastically curtail access to legal abortion and advance other conservative Christian priorities.
As Trump announced Judge Brett Kavanaugh as his second nominee to the court in his 18-month term, these conservative Christians saw much of their dream realized.
“It’s a generational decision,” exulted Jack Graham, a Texas pastor who is on Trump’s informal evangelical advisory board. “It’s a decision that impacts not only today, not only us, but our children – our grandchildren, potentially.”
Many evangelical pastors and activists said they would have been pleased with any of the names reported to be on Trump’s shortlist for the nomination. After all, that was the gambit that won Trump so many evangelical votes in 2016: He made the unusual move of releasing, before he was even president, a list of judges he would consider for the Supreme Court if elected. And evangelicals liked what they saw.
“That gave them the energy to say I can support Trump, if these are the sort of judges he would appoint,” Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, recalled of that list. “It was more critical than any of the other issues that were surrounding the Trump campaign at that time. . . . That’s the main reason Christian conservatives voted for President Trump, was on the question of judges.”
Because of the Supreme Court – and because of the court’s power to restrict abortion, the utmost issue to many evangelical and Catholic voters who view an abortion as the killing of a human being – these evangelicals have put up with many aspects of Trump’s candidacy and administration that they might otherwise have found distasteful, including his three marriages and his reported affair with a porn star; his numerous alleged sexual assaults and his on-tape statement about grabbing women’s genitals; and his policy, now reversed, of separating children from their parents at the U.S. border.
But now that this cadre of evangelical voters, those who said they overcame their discomfort with other aspects of Trump’s record because of the Supreme Court, have received what they wanted – two nominations, enough to create a five-members conservative majority on the court – that doesn’t mean they’ll drop their support of Trump, evangelical leaders say.
“The more the merrier,” opined James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family. He said that evangelicals want to see more conservative justices appointed, in case one doesn’t vote as predicted on their most cherished issues, including abortion and matters of sexuality. They’re eyeing 85-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the most likely to retire next.
Jentezen Franklin, another member of Trump’s evangelical advisory board, said the board members would have a conference call with the White House just after Trump’s announcement Monday night. They’ve advised him on this selection. And Franklin doesn’t think evangelical ardor for Trump will die down now that their goal of a conservative majority on the court seems to have been achieved: “If anything, it throws fuel on the fire. That’s not to say that something won’t be said today or tomorrow that I totally, 100 percent disagree with. It can happen. You have to take the good with the bad.”
Franklin said it’s not just the Supreme Court; he’s a fan of Trump’s tariffs and his negotiations with North Korea. But the Supreme Court was what got evangelicals on board. “I knew this was coming. I knew we would have two or three Supreme Court justices that could turn the tide of the culture of our nation,” he said. “I know it drove millions and millions of evangelicals, more than any other issue, to the polls for Donald Trump.”
Mulling the possible appointees on Monday afternoon, evangelical leaders had mixed opinions about the likelihood of overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision in which the court ruled that there is a nationwide right to legal access to abortion, and most said they don’t think the court’s 2015 decision legalizing gay marriage would be reversed. Still, they believe anyone Trump appoints will rule in cases that will curtail access to abortion, and will agree with conservative interpretations of religious liberty – such as ruling in favor of wedding vendors who believe they have the right not to serve gay customers.
More liberal faith groups interpret religious liberty differently. In the most recent Supreme Court term, progressive groups insisted that the Trump administration was violating the First Amendment by banning entrants into the United States from certain Muslim-majority nations – a view that conservatives, and ultimately the Supreme Court, disagreed with.
And Mollie Katz, the communications director at the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, said Monday that some faith groups believe there is a right to the religious freedom to reach a personal decision on abortion. “We would like to see a justice appointed who would give due consideration to the fact that there are multiple religious views. Religion is not monolithic in this country,” she said. “That there are people of faith and clergy who believe that a woman can make this decision of her own conscience, and that God will love her even if she has an abortion, that’s very surprising to people.”
Katz’s group, which includes Jews and liberal Christian denominations, grew out of a pre-Roe organization called Clergy Consultation Service, in which more than 1,000 clergy members helped women find access to safe secret abortions before the procedure was legalized.
She said the group isn’t talking yet about returning to those roots but is grimly discussing a near future in which women in much of the country might have great difficulty obtaining safe abortions.
But to many evangelical voters, that was their goal all along, and they were celebrating Monday night, feeling it was one big step closer.
And they’ll stick with the man who made it happen. Dobson said as he waited for Trump’s announcement Monday: “I like the job that he’s done. He has kept his promises, especially to evangelicals. . . . I will vote for him again.”