Political pressure is mounting on Joe Biden to take more action to protect abortion rights across the US as firebrand New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called for supreme court justices to be impeached for misleading statements about their views on Roe v Wade.
Ocasio-Cortez’s remarks took aim at justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch. Both were appointed by former president Donald Trump and had signaled that they would not reverse the supreme court’s landmark 1973 decision in Roe v Wade during confirmation hearings as well as in meetings with senators.
On Friday, Kavanaugh and Gorsuch formed part of the conservative majority which in effect ended legal access to abortion in most states, and Ocasio-Cortez said “there must be consequences” for that.
“They lied,” the leftwing, second-term representative said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “I believe lying under oath is an impeachable offense … and I believe that this is something that should be very seriously considered.”
Ocasio-Cortez added that standing idly by “sends a blaring signal to all future nominees that they can now lie to duly elected members of the United States Senate in order to secure … confirmations and seats on the supreme court”.
She also mentioned impeaching Justice Clarence Thomas, whose wife Ginni emailed 29 Republican lawmakers in Arizona as she tried to help undermine Biden’s victory over Trump in the 2020 presidential election. Thomas has not recused himself from election-related cases, drawing criticism.
“I believe that not recusing from cases that one clearly has family members involved in with very deep violations of conflict of interest are also impeachable offenses,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
House members can impeach a judge with a simple majority vote. But to be removed from office a justice would need to be convicted by a two-thirds majority of the Senate.
Biden’s Democratic party controls the House with a clear majority, but its standing in the Senate is much more tenuous. The Senate is split 50-50, though Biden’s vice-president, Kamala Harris, can serve as a tiebreaker for votes that can be carried by a simple majority.
The president dismissed the overturning of Roe v Wade as “cruel” but stopped well short of calling for the impeachment of any justices. He has also rejected the strategy proposed in some quarters to expand the supreme court in a way that would allow for the addition of more liberals and blunt the bench’s current conservative majority.
Joining Kavanaugh, Gorsuch and Thomas as conservatives on the supreme court are justices Samuel Alito, Amy Coney Barrett and John Roberts. The liberals are Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
Breyer is retiring and due to be replaced by Ketanji Brown Jackson, another liberal.
Nonetheless, on Sunday, Ocasio-Cortez urged Biden to personally take steps to address what she called the supreme court’s “crisis of legitimacy”.
“President Biden must address that,” she said.
Ocasio-Cortez suggested Biden could order the opening up of abortion clinics on federal lands in states where terminating pregnancies has been outlawed “to help people access the healthcare services they need”, echoing an idea from the Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren.
In states where abortion is no longer allowed because of Friday’s ruling, residents who need to terminate pregnancies must now travel hundreds of miles – if not more – to get access to the procedure.
Many US corporate giants have taken steps to provide support and financial assistance to employees seeking abortions in states where that is outlawed in most cases. But such measures won’t help millions of people who need abortions but are not employed by a large international or national company.
That’s where an order from Biden to allow abortion on federal lands in anti-abortion rights states would come in and help.
Ocasio-Cortez also discussed possibly expanding access to abortion pills that could be mailed to those in need, though Republican politicians are gearing up to limit access to those as well.
For instance, South Dakota’s governor, Kristi Noem, said her state would move to block medical providers in states where abortion is legal from mailing to South Dakotans pills that could end a pregnancy.
The pressure on Biden follows the congresswoman’s remark earlier this month that she could not yet commit to endorsing him for another run at the White House in the 2024 election.
Ocasio-Cortez’s comments on Sunday came after senators such as Susan Collins of Maine and Joe Manchin of West Virginia said they felt deceived by Friday’s controversial supreme court decision to end nearly 50 years of protections granted by Roe v Wade.
Collins, a Republican, said she felt “misled” after Kavanaugh and Gorsuch had said they would leave in place “longstanding precedents that the country has relied upon” during their confirmation hearings and in meetings with her.
Meanwhile, Manchin said he had trusted both Kavanaugh and Gorsuch when they “testified under oath that they … believed Roe v Wade was settled legal precedent”.
Manchin was the lone Democrat to support Kavanaugh’s appointment.