Exclusive: Email shows Biden was set to nominate anti-abortion GOP judge on day of Supreme Court Roe ruling

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A White House email to Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear sent the afternoon of June 23 announced that President Joe Biden planned to nominate anti-abortion Republican Chad Meredith for federal judge in the state's eastern district the very next day.

But the very next day was June 24, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and ended the federal constitutional right to abortion — effectively banning abortion in Kentucky because of its trigger law.

Meredith's nomination — which hadn't been revealed to the public — was not announced or submitted by the White House.

However, there is no indication it has been rescinded.

The undated email, sent by White House aide Kathleen M. Marshall at 4:16 p.m. Eastern, was obtained by The Courier Journal last week.

It stated: "To be nominated tomorrow:… Stephen Chad Meredith: candidate for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky."

A White House email to Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear's office announces that conservative Republican Chad Meredith will be nominated as a candidate for an Eastern Kentucky federal judgeship.
A White House email to Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear's office announces that conservative Republican Chad Meredith will be nominated as a candidate for an Eastern Kentucky federal judgeship.

Marshall did not respond to a request for comment. She is a former lieutenant governor in Nevada who joined the White House last August as senior adviser to governors in the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.

Beshear has said he was told last week of Meredith's coming nomination. Although his office wouldn't disclose the date of that notification, The Courier Journal has established the email was sent June 23.

The Courier Journal filed open-records requests officially seeking the release of the email and corresponding communications between the governor's office and the White House.

The governor's office denied those requests, saying the documents were "preliminary," and therefore exempt under Kentucky's open-records act.

The Courier Journal intends to appeal that decision.

The Courier Journal first broke the news Wednesday that Biden intended to nominate Meredith, a Federalist Society member who served as deputy counsel to former Republican Gov. Bevin and more recently as solicitor general for Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron.

Biden's intended nomination drew a firestorm of criticism from Democratic officials in Kentucky, including Beshear and U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville.

At his press conference Thursday, Beshear said he hopes Biden has reconsidered, or “in the very least it's on pause."

"If the president makes that nomination, it is indefensible,” he said.

More: Democrats incensed by Biden's pending nomination of anti-abortion Republican for judge seat

It is still unclear why the White House did not follow through with the nomination it had planned, nor when it might be submitted.

On Wednesday, the White House announced a round of federal judicial nominations — but Meredith was not in the group.

The list included just two nominees: one for the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals and another for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

Spokespeople for the White House have repeatedly declined to answer questions about the status of Meredith's potential nomination, only saying "we do not comment on vacancies."

On Friday, White House aides escorted reporters out while Biden was speaking at a virtual meeting with governors on women's reproductive rights without the president taking questions.

New judge vacancy pops up

Until Friday, there were no current vacancies listed for federal judgeships in Kentucky's Eastern District, when the federal listing showed U.S. District Judge Karen K. Caldwell had issued her notification last week that she is taking senior status.

The vacancies listing shows Caldwell submitted her notice on June 22 — the day before the Biden email to Beshear announcing the Meredith nomination. The date for when that vacancy will begin is to be determined.

U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell
U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell

Caldwell has been a U.S. District Court judge in Kentucky's Eastern District since her nomination by President George W. Bush in 2001.

More: Kentucky abortion clinics to reopen Friday after judge grants temporary order

What deal did President Joe Biden cut with Mitch McConnell?

Yarmuth and other officials have said they believe Biden's move is part of a deal cut with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell so he won't hold up future federal nominations by the White House.

McConnell has been seeking to get Meredith on the bench since President Donald Trump was in office. Meredith was being vetted for a federal judgeship in 2020 by Trump’s administration but later was dropped from consideration.

Commenting earlier this week on the lack of immediate vacancies on Kentucky's bench, Yarmuth said, "it’s clear that this is part of some larger deal on judicial nominations between the president and Mitch McConnell."

McConnell has pointed to his role in stacking federal courts with conservative judges as a key part of his legacy.

According to reporting by the New York Times in 2020, McConnell even went so far as to personally reach out to federal judges appointed by past GOP presidents to pressure them into retirement while Republicans still held the White House and Senate majority.

If Biden follows through with a nomination of Meredith and he is later confirmed, McConnell would pull off that feat despite Democrats controlling both the White House and Senate.

A Courier Journal report on Caldwell's appointment as U.S. attorney for the same eastern district in 1991 noted that she had dated McConnell.

McConnell, who recommended Caldwell for that position, said at the time that she was well-qualified and should not be barred from the position because of their personal relationship.

Robert Steurer, a spokesman for McConnell, said he would have no comment until Biden makes his nomination. Meredith has also declined to comment.

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Progressives to Biden: 'please don’t do this'

Abortion rights advocates have expressed outrage at news of the potential Meredith nomination by Biden, who has spent the past week strongly criticizing the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade and calling for changing Senate filibuster rules to codify federal abortion rights.

Renee Bracey Sherman, founder and executive director of We Testify, which advocates for people who have had abortions, said her organization is “deeply disappointed.” Biden promised a “whole of government” response after Roe was overturned, she said.

Instead, Sherman said Biden is “making plans with the very people who are criminalizing abortion" by installing a judge who will "do harm to the fast crumbling network of abortion access."

"If you are a pro-choice president you should only be nominating judges who believe in the full autonomy of every single person in this country," Sherman said. "This isn’t a game. He needs to rescind this plan immediately.”

Rakim H.D. Brooks, president of Alliance for Justice, a progressive judicial advocacy group likewise ridiculed the pick.

"It is completely unacceptable for Democrats to even consider confirming an anti-abortion judge to a lifetime appointment, especially in the wake of last week’s devastating news on Roe," Brooks said in a statement. "People are going to die because of a lack of abortion access.

"We don’t know the details of this alleged deal, but we cannot understand why the administration would be working with McConnell to appoint an anti-abortion member of the Federalist Society to a lifetime position on the federal bench. … Republican party leaders cannot be trusted."

Progressive members of Congress also called for Biden to reconsider Meredith’s nomination.

“In the midst of a national public health crisis on abortion rights, the last thing we need is another anti-abortion judge interfering in our personal health care decisions,” said Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., who has been outspoken about her own abortion at 17 years old after being raped.

“I’m urging President Biden: please don’t do this.”

Chad Meredith's part in Gov. Matt Bevin's pardons

When in Bevin's office, Meredith defended a 2017 Kentucky abortion law requiring doctors who perform abortions to first perform an ultrasound and describe the image to the patient, losing first at a trial in federal court before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later upheld the statute.

As the top appellate lawyer for Cameron, Meredith also successfully defended a state law in the Kentucky Supreme Court that stripped Gov. Beshear of his emergency power to implement COVID-19 restrictions.

Beshear said Meredith should be disqualified from a nomination for his work on the controversial pardons and commutations of Bevin at the end of his term, saying the deputy counsel “aided and advised on the most egregious abuse of power by a governor in my lifetime.”

“If you are a lawyer that advised on that and went along with it, you should be disqualified from serving in a role where you would hand out sentences," Beshear said. "I mean, these are individuals who are pardoned who are walking free today, despite committing terrible violent crimes.”

Meredith’s personal lawyer, Brandon Marshall, has told The Courier Journal Meredith had "no meaningful involvement with any of the most controversial pardons about which the media has made much.”

Reach reporter Joe Sonka at jsonka@courierjournal.com and follow him on Twitter at @joesonka. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today at the top of this page.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Biden planned nomination of anti-abortion judge for day of Roe ruling