In a speech to Christian media in Orlando, Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, envisaged the creation of a “7-2 conservative majority that would last a quarter-century” on the US supreme court should he be elected president next year.
Speaking to the National Religious Broadcasters Convention, DeSantis said: “I think if you look over the next two presidential terms, there is a good chance that you could be called upon to seek replacements for Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito and the issue with that is, you can’t really do better than those two.”
Supreme court justices serve for life or until they choose to retire. Thomas, who has rejected calls to resign over his relationship with a Republican mega-donor, is 74. Alito is 73. Both are hard-right figures on a court tipped firmly right, 6-3.
But DeSantis also alluded to a chance to replace Sonia Sotomayor, a liberal appointed by Barack Obama who is now 68, or perhaps Elena Kagan, another Obama appointee who is now 63, should he win the White House and serve two full terms.
He said: “So it is possible that in those eight years, we have the opportunity to fortify justices … Alito and Thomas as well as actually make improvements with those others, and if you were able to do that, you would have a 7-2 conservative majority on the supreme court that would last a quarter-century.”
According to the Washington Post, DeSantis’s comments were met with “raucous applause”.
The governor also took a shot at John Roberts, the conservative chief justice who has sided with liberals on key decisions, including the one last year which eliminated federal abortion rights.
“If you replace a Clarence Thomas with somebody like a Roberts or somebody like that,” DeSantis said, “then you’re gonna actually see the court move to the left, and you can’t do that.”
Under Roberts, the court has moved to the right.
Last year, Alito wrote the opinion in Dobbs v Jackson, which removed abortion rights. Thomas wrote the opinion in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v Bruen, striking down a gun control law in place since 1911.
DeSantis, 44, is expected to announce his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination this week.
Donald Trump, 76, is the clear frontrunner to face President Joe Biden, who is 80 and beat Trump in 2020. On Monday, however, Fox News reported that 100 Trump White House alumni have formed a pro-DeSantis group called the Eight-Year Alliance.
DeSantis is preparing to launch a campaign fueled by hard-right state legislation. Notable policies have included a crackdown on the teaching of LGBTQ+ issues and of race in US history, legislation targeting trans people in public life, a loosening of gun control laws and a six-week abortion ban.
Many observers say that record may prove too extreme for voters in a presidential election.
On abortion rights, for example, public opinion is consistently against the kind of extreme bans recently passed in Republican states.
In Orlando, the Post said, DeSantis “promoted the six-week abortion ban he helped enact this year … a divisive topic he tends to brush past, even with staunchly conservative audiences”.
The governor’s comments were “brief”, the Post said. But when he said his ban was meant to “protect an unborn child that has a detectable heartbeat”, he was “drowned out by extended cheers”.
Gynecologists say fetuses do not have heartbeats at six weeks, a stage at which many women do not know they are pregnant.
In Orlando, DeSantis said his ban was “the right thing to do”.
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