In May 2022, after news leaked that the U.S. Supreme Court had provisionally voted to overturn the abortion protections enshrined in Roe v. Wade, the left-wing political action committee MeidasTouch briefly caused "#LyingGOP" to trend on Twitter, with a video that accused five Republican-appointed justices of lying about their intentions to overturn the landmark ruling.
However, the creators of the video badly misrepresented the full scope of relevant facts in two important ways, and we are issuing a rating of "False."
First, they engaged in highly selective editing of much longer and more nuanced archival clips of future justices during their U.S. Senate confirmation hearings, in order to grossly misrepresent the substance of what they said.
Second, they appeared to misunderstand or misrepresent the meaning of a Supreme Court precedent. In brief, describing a ruling as an important precedent is not tantamount to giving a commitment not to overturn that ruling, or indicating you believe that ruling cannot be overruled. Therefore, the sweeping allegations of premeditated dishonesty on the part of GOP-appointed justices were as poorly supported by evidence as they were wrongheaded.
The following is our breakdown of what the MeidasTouch "megaviral supercut" video claimed, lined up against what the factual record shows.
Justice Clarence Thomas
The following is how Meidas Touch presented Thomas's remarks:
Clarence Thomas: I believe the constitution protects the right to privacy. And I have no reason or agenda to prejudge the issue.
Caption: HE LIED
In this section of the video, MeidasTouch mutilated a 1991 quotation from then-Supreme Court nominee Thomas, and grossly misrepresented the substance and meaning of his remarks. In reality, Thomas absolutely did not provide any assurances on how he might rule on the specific case of Roe v. Wade, nor on the question of abortion rights.
U.S. Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, had been attempting to pin down Thomas's views on whether the U.S. Constitution protects abortion rights, and had highlighted what he presented as discrepancies in Thomas's past pronouncements.
In particular, Metzenbaum asked Thomas to resolve an apparent gap between his putative support for a constitutionally-enshrined right to privacy, more broadly, and abortion rights in particular. Metzenbaum put it to Thomas that:
I fear that you, like other nominees before the committee, could assure us that you support a fundamental right to privacy, but could also decline to find that a woman's right to choose is protected by the constitution.
At the culmination of his remarks, Metzenbaum asked Thomas:
I must ask you to tell us here and now whether you believe that the constitution protects a woman's right to choose to terminate her pregnancy, and I am not asking you as to how you would vote in connection with any case before the court.
In response, Thomas prevaricated, as so many judicial nominees have in recent decades:
I am afraid though, on your final question, Senator, that it is important for any of us who are judges, in areas that are very deeply contested...I think that to take a position would undermine my ability to be impartial...
I am afraid that to begin to answer questions about what my specific position is in these contested areas would greatly — or leave the impression that I prejudged this issue.
When Metzenbaum again attempted to pin down the nominee, Thomas again prevaricated, providing the quotation that would be mutilated and misrepresented by MeidasTouch in their video:
Senator, as I noted yesterday, and I think we all feel strongly in this country about our privacy — I do — I believe the constitution protects the right to privacy. And I have no reason or agenda to prejudge the issue or to predispose to rule one way or the other on the issue of abortion, which is a difficult issue. [Emphasis is added].
As the transcript makes clear, MeidasTouch cut off the second half of Thomas's sentence, in which he stipulated that he had "no reason...to prejudge" or "to predispose to rule one way or the other on the issue of abortion."
In reality, Thomas was repeatedly urged and asked to make pronouncements on abortion rights, and refused to do so. The notion, therefore, that in this exchange he somehow gave an assurance that he would not ever vote to overturn Roe v. Wade is utterly without basis in fact.
Justice Samuel Alito
The following is how MeidasTouch presented Alito's remarks:
Alito: Roe v Wade is an important precedent of the Supreme Court. It was decided in 1973. It has been challenged on a number of occasions and the Supreme Court has reaffirmed the decision. When a decision is challenged and it is reaffirmed, that strengthens its value.
Caption: HE LIED
Once again, this presentation gives the grossly misleading impression that, in his confirmation hearings, Alito indicated he would not vote to overturn Roe v Wade. In reality, the full scope of his remarks clearly shows that — like most judicial nominees — Alito very carefully avoided giving any assurances about how he might vote on that precedent.
Ironically, the starting point for the exchange was the concern expressed by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., that Alito had "decided to create categories of cases that have been decided by the Court that you will concede have constitutional protection, but you have left in question the future of Roe v. Wade."
In other words, Durbin was concerned that Alito had not stated, for the record, that Roe v. Wade was no longer open to overturning, and indeed had in the past asserted that "the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion."
So while MeidasTouch presented Alito's remarks as proof that he thought Roe v. Wade was beyond overturning — "Roe v. Wade is an important precedent of the Supreme Court" — what those remarks actually constituted was Alito's careful avoidance of describing the ruling as such. Here's the key exchange:
Durbin: Do you believe [Roe v Wade] is the settled law of the land?
Alito: Roe v. Wade is an important precedent of the Supreme Court. It was decided in 1973, so it has been on the books for a long time. It has been challenged on a number of occasions, and I discussed those yesterday, and the Supreme Court has reaffirmed the decision, sometimes on the merits, sometimes [as] in Casey based on stare decisis, and I think that when a decision is challenged and it is reaffirmed that strengthens its value as stare decisis...
Durbin: Is it the settled law of the land?
Alito: It is a — if settled means that it can't be re-examined, then that's one thing. If settled means that it is a precedent that is entitled to respect as stare decisis, and all of the factors that I've mentioned come into play, including the reaffirmation and all of that, then it is a precedent that is protected, entitled to respect under the doctrine of stare decisis, in that way.
What Alito is saying here is that Roe v. Wade is clearly a precedent whose conclusions have been repeatedly reaffirmed by the court, and would not lightly be overturned, taking into account the doctrine of stare decisis — the legal principle of deference to precedent expressed in the Latin phrase, which means "let stand what has been decided."
What Alito is not saying — indeed, what he is scrupulously avoiding saying, despite Durbin's best efforts — is that Roe v Wade is beyond overturning, like various other landmark precedents he had mentioned elsewhere in the hearings, such as Brown v. the Board of Education.
So the full scope of Alito's remarks, when viewed objectively and in context, actually show the opposite of what the brief clip, strategically cut away by MeidasTouch, appeared to show.
Justice Neil Gorsuch
The following is how Meidas Touch presented Gorsuch's remarks.
Gorsuch: Roe v Wade, decided in 1973, is a precedent of the United States Supreme Court. It has been reaffirmed. So a good judge will consider it as precedent of the United States Supreme Court, worthy [of] treatment [as] precedent, like any other.
Caption: HE LIED
MeidasTouch badly misrepresented Gorsuch's remarks in the same way as it did Alito's. In reality, by describing Roe v. Wade as a precedent "worthy of treatment as precedent," Gorsuch was assiduously avoiding going any further or categorizing it as beyond overturning.
During his questioning of the Trump nominee, Judiciary committee chairman U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, asked Gorsuch whether he thought DC v. Heller, a landmark 2008 decision in which the court reaffirmed the Second Amendment right to bear arms, had been correctly decided. Gorsuch said:
Senator, I would respectfully respond that it [DC v Heller] is a precedent of the U.S. Supreme Court, and as a good judge, you do not approach that question anew, as if it had never been decided. That would be a wrong way to approach it. My personal views, I would also tell you, Mr. Chairman, belong over here. I leave those at home...Part of being a good judge is coming in and taking precedent as it stands, and your personal views about the precedent have absolutely nothing to do with the good job of a judge.
Gorsuch then effectively reiterated the same response in relation to several other landmark precedents, including Citizens United, Hosanna-Tabor, Gideon v. Wainwright and Roe v. Wade. On the latter case, Gorsuch said:
Senator, again, I would tell you that Roe v. Wade, decided in 1973, is a precedent of the U.S. Supreme Court. It has been reaffirmed. The reliance interest considerations are important there, and all of the other factors that go into analyzing precedent have to be considered. It is a precedent of the U.S. Supreme Court. It was reaffirmed in Casey in 1992 and in several other cases. So a good judge will consider it as precedent of the U.S. Supreme Court worthy [of] treatment [as] precedent like any other.
Did Gorsuch indicate that Roe v Wade was particularly or unusually vulnerable to being overturned? No. Did he suggest it was immune to overturning? Absolutely not.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh
The following is how MeidasTouch presented Kavanaugh's remarks.
Kavanaugh: As a judge, it is an important precedent of the Supreme Court. By "it" I mean Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood v Casey. Been reaffirmed many times. Casey is precedent on precedent.
Caption: HE LIED
The clip in question came from Kavanaugh's Senate judiciary committee hearing on Sep. 5, 2018, during questioning by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. Readers can consult the relevant transcript and video.
Feinstein had been attempting to pin down Kavanaugh about his views on the status of Roe v. Wade as a precedent, and whether it "could be overturned." Kavanaugh, stating the obvious, acknowledged Roe was a precedent and described Planned Parenthood v. Casey as "precedent on precedent" but declined to go further, despite repeated invitations by Feinstein.
Feinstein: ...It has been reported that you have said that Roe is now settled law. The first question I have of you is what do you mean by "settled law''? I tried to ask earlier do you believe it is correct law? Have your views on whether Roe is settled precedent or could be overturned, and has your views changed since you were in the Bush White House?
Kavanaugh: Senator, I said that it is settled as a precedent of the Supreme Court, entitled the respect under principles of stare decisis. And one of the important things to keep in mind about Roe v. Wade is that it has been reaffirmed many times over the past 45 years, as you know, and most prominently, most importantly, reaffirmed in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992.
Feinstein followed up one last time, asking "What would you say your position today is on a woman's right to choose?" and Kavanaugh again prevaricated on the future sustainability of Roe v Wade:
As a judge, it is an important precedent of the Supreme Court. By "it,'' I mean Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. They have been reaffirmed many times. Casey is precedent on precedent, which itself is an important factor to remember.
As we have pointed out in other cases, acknowledging that a ruling is a precedent, or even "precedent on precedent," is not the same as saying you would never overturn it.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett
The following is how MeidasTouch presented Barrett's remarks.
Barrett: Roe is not a superprecedent because calls for its overruling have never ceased, but that doesn't mean that Roe should be overruled.
Caption: THEY ALL LIED
This is perhaps the most egregious example of all, and comes from the second day of Barrett's Senate confirmation hearing, Oct. 13, 2020. An official transcript was not readily available in this case, but readers can consult video footage.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., was questioning Barrett about various Supreme Court landmarks, and the concept of the "superprecedent" — a somewhat ambiguous term coined by former Sen. Arlen Specter.
In a 2013 paper, Barrett wrote "Superprecedents are cases that no justice would overrule, even if she disagrees with the interpretive premises from which the precedent proceeds," and included the following more detailed explanation from law professor Michael Gerhardt:
[T]he point at which a well-settled practice becomes, by virtue of being well-settled, practically immune to reconsideration is the point at which that precedent has become a superprecedent. Nothing becomes a superprecedent, at least in my judgment, unless it has been widely and uniformly accepted by public authorities generally, including the Court, the President, and Congress.
In that 2013 paper, Barrett also explicitly listed a handful of Supreme Court cases — including Brown v. the Board of Education — which were typically cited as superprecedents.
Earlier in her confirmation hearing, during questioning by judiciary committee chairman U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Barrett had said that, in the context of legal scholarship, a superprecedent was a "precedent that is so well established that it would be unthinkable that it would ever be overruled" and Barrett would also similarly tell Klobuchar that the term described a precedent that was "so widely-established and agreed-upon by everyone [that] calls for its overruling simply don't exist."
That was the background against which Klobuchar asked Barrett whether Roe v. Wade was a superprecedent, and Barrett explicitly excluded Roe v. Wade from the small handful of cases to which that term applies. She said:
The way that ["superprecedent"] is used in the scholarship, and the way that I was using it in the article that you're reading from was to define cases that are so well settled that no political actors and no people seriously push for their overruling. And I'm answering a lot of questions about Roe, which I think indicates that Roe doesn't fall in that category. And scholars across the spectrum say that doesn't mean that Roe should be overruled, but descriptively it does mean that it's not a case that everyone has accepted and doesn't call for its overruling.
...As Richard Fallon from Harvard said, Roe is not superprecedent because calls for its overruling have never ceased, but that doesn't mean that Roe should be overruled. It just means that it doesn't fall on the small handful of cases like Marbury v Madison and Brown v the Board, that noone questions any more.
Reading Barrett's remarks in their proper context clearly demonstrates that she directly and explicitly exploded the frankly laughable claim, made by MeidasTouch, that she had indicated Roe v. Wade was immune to overruling. In fact, she did just the opposite.