DES MOINES, Iowa – It was a line that you would expect would receive thunderous applause.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, addressing a crowd of some 1,200 evangelical activists attending the annual leadership summit of the Family Leader, a top social conservative organization in the first-in-the-nation presidential caucus state of Iowa, touted the Trump administration’s success in shifting the federal bench to the right.
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“We appointed more than 300 conservatives to our federal courts at every level, including Justice Neil Gorsuch, Justice Brett Kavanaugh and how about Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Isn’t she something?” Pence told audience.
The former vice president’s comment received polite applause, but there was no standing ovation.
Pence was the final major speaker at the daylong conference, and the audience may have been tired. But the reaction may also be more evidence that social conservative voters are disappointed to date over what many may feel is a failure to deliver by the three Supreme Court justices named to the high court by then-President Trump.
With the promise of stocking the federal courts with conservative judges, evangelical voters overlooked Trump’s numerous controversies and overwhelming supported him in his 2016 presidential election victory and his 2020 reelection defeat.
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And Trump – with a major assist from then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – followed through on his pledge. The confirmation of Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett has shifted the balance of power on the Supreme Court to a 6-3 majority for conservatives. But a high court feared by liberals and celebrated by conservatives hasn’t delivered as expected, leaving some on the right to feel let down.
Family Leader president and CEO Bob Vander Plaats told Fox News he wasn’t surprised Pence “got kind of a golf clap, not a roaring applause.”
Vander Plaats said “there’s no question” the rank and file in his organization are frustrated. “I think they’ve been less than satisfied with Kavanaugh and even Amy Coney Barrett.”
“What I kind of believe you saw there was there’s been a lot of over-promising about if we get the Supreme Court, if we get the justices, watch out, they will rule with the Constitution, the original intent,” he emphasized.
During the just-concluded Supreme Court session, some key rulings didn’t sit well with conservatives. Among those opinions: The high court didn’t scuttle the Affordable Care Act, better known to many Americans as ObamaCare, which has been a longtime goal GOP goal. The court also ruled in favor of a transgender student who didn’t want to use the school bathroom assigned to his sex at birth, a lighting rod issue among many conservatives.
And while the court ruled that a Catholic social services agency in Philadelphia could defy city rules by refusing to work with same-sex couples who applied for foster children, there was disappointment in the narrow focus of the opinion. Following the ruling, three conservative Supreme Court justices – Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Gorsuch – seemingly criticized Barrett and Kavanaugh for being too timid.
The court also declined earlier this month to take up an appeal from a florist in Washington state who refused to make a floral arrangement for a same-sex couple due to religious concerns over same-sex marriages.
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The former president is also anything but pleased.
“I am very disappointed. I fought very hard for them, but I was very disappointed with a number of their rulings,” Trump told Real America’s Voice network anchor David Brody last month after the ObamaCare ruling.
And conservative commentator, media host and author Ben Shapiro told Fox News last week that “so far, we have seen little from either Barrett or Kavanaugh to justify conservatives’ high hopes for them.”
While there’s disappointment, evangelicals note that the Supreme Court has yet to hear a major abortion case under the 6-3 conservative majority.
But that will soon change, as the high court announced in May that it will take up an abortion rights case next term that’s seen as a major challenge to Roe v. Wade, the decades-old landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.
The justices will say they’ll hear Mississippi’s appeal of lower court decisions striking down a state ban on all abortions after 15 weeks, with exception of medical emergencies or severe fetal abnormality. The case will likely be heard in front the court in the autumn, with a ruling expected in June of next year.
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A top national social conservative political leader, who asked to remain anonymous to speak more freely, said the final verdict on Trump’s Supreme Court nominees is far from written.
“I think most have a wait-and-see attitude. There’s been some disappointment but there have also been tremendous victories for religious freedom and there has not yet been a major abortion case yet. We shall see,” the leader said, adding that Gorsuch, Cavanaugh and Barrett “are vast improvements over what we would have gotten from Hillary Clinton and may turn out to be quite good.”
Vander Plaats concurred, highlighting that “the verdict’s not in. There’s a lot of cases that are probably coming up to the court that we’ll be watching very closely.”
Pointing to the upcoming Mississippi case, he said “we believe that’s a good sign that (the justices) would have the votes to start undermining the validity of Roe v. Wade.”