EXCLUSIVE II: Gary Johnson on Abortion Restrictions, Religious Liberty and SCOTUS

Posted: Sep 01, 2016 7:01 AM

In part two of my lengthy discussion with Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson, we tackled the courts and social issues. I opened the conversation with a respectful challenge (:40) on why his Vice Presidential running mate cited two liberal Democrat-appointed judges as model nominees during a recent televised forum, then inquired as to whether the former governor's pro-choice abortion stance offers any concessions to pro-lifers (2:45), and wrapped up by seeking to explore the candidate's views on a host of religious freedom-related controversies (6:05).  Here's our exchange:

Johnson opened by backing away from the Breyer and Garland examples, conceding that Weld shouldn't have named those two individuals. He said that he'd go about picking judges in a "bipartisan" manner, stating that he would not impose litmus tests -- although he agreed that opposition to the Kelo ruling on eminent domain, despised by libertarians, might be an exception (although he seemed surprised to learn that Justice Breyer joined the Court's majority in that case). On abortion, Johnson expressed support for the Hyde Amendment, which bars taxpayer funds being used to pay for abortions, and explained why he's open to backing mainstream restrictions on the practice, such as the proposed 20-week (6th month) ban and parental notification laws.  He said abortion laws should generally be left up to the states, which can easily be defended as a consistent pro-choice but anti-Roe v. Wade position.

Religious liberty proved to be the trickiest of the subjects we addressed in this portion of the interview.  Johnson praised Utah's landmark compromise struck between Mormon conservatives and the state's LGBT community as a model for the country, but mainly side-stepped thorny questions about public accommodation, small businesses and same-sex marriage ceremonies.  He criticized Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), but couldn't say how it differs from New Mexico's version of the law, which appears to have been signed by...Gov. Gary Johnson in 2000.  On recent Supreme Court decisions, the Libertarian standard-bearer appeared to be unfamiliar with the specifics of the Hobby Lobby case, eventually concluding that the Court's 5-4 majority got it wrong; religious small businesses shouldn't be able to "discriminate" against employees by declining to pay for certain forms of birth control and abortifacients, he said. Observers will need to decide for themselves if or how support for this coercive and unconstitutional Obamacare mandate is consistent with libertarian principles.  Johnson went on to criticize the Obama administration for its protracted legal battle with the Little Sisters of the Poor.  He said he believes the White House overstepped by attempting to force Catholic nuns -- clearly a religious organization, he noted -- to facilitate the purchase of birth control.

If you missed our conversation on immigration and the 2016 race, click here.  Up next: Guns, foreign policy, Obamacare, entitlement reform, and taxes...