The office of Kentucky's governor, Andy Beshear, has shared emails confirming that Joe Biden intended to nominate Chad Meredith, a conservative lawyer who has previously defended anti-abortion legislation, to a federal judgeship.
Reports of Meredith's potential nomination have sparked outrage among progressives and abortion rights advocates, even as the White House has dodged questions about the matter. Biden is already seen by some as not taking a strong enough lead on defending abortion rights.
Beshear, a Democrat, shared the emails with the Louisville Courier-Journal, which broke the news of Meredith's expected nomination last week.
In a 23 June email to one of Beshear's advisers in DC, the White House aide Kathleen M Marshall said, "To be nominated tomorrow: … Stephen Chad Meredith: candidate for the United States district court for the eastern district of Kentucky."
But Meredith's nomination was not announced the following day, 24 June, when the supreme court released its decision to overturn Roe v Wade, ending the federal right to abortion access.
Instead, Marshall sent a follow-up email on 29 June, telling Beshear's aide, "Sorry for not including this in the original e-mail, but I wanted to clarify that the e-mail I sent was pre-decisional and privileged information."
Asked about Meredith on Tuesday, the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, emphasized that no formal nomination had yet been submitted.
"We make it a point here to not comment on any vacancy, whether it is on the executive branch or the judicial branch, especially those that the nomination has not been made yet," Jean-Pierre said.
But the emails released by Beshear's office confirm that the White House had planned to soon submit Meredith's nomination. According to reports, the nomination was part of a deal with the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, to avoid holding up Biden's other judicial nominations.
That explanation failed to appease Meredith's critics, who warned that he would use his post as a federal judge to further attack abortion rights. They noted that, as the chief deputy general counsel for former governor Matt Bevin, Meredith defended a Kentucky law requiring doctors to perform an ultrasound and describe the image to patients before performing abortions.
Meredith also served as an adviser to Bevin as the then governor issued hundreds of pardons, many of them for violent crimes, during his final days in office.
"My understanding right now is it has not been submitted, which I hope means at the very least means it's on pause," Beshear said of Meredith's nomination on Thursday. "If the president makes that nomination, it is indefensible."
Charles Booker, a progressive running against the Republican senator Rand Paul in Kentucky, said on Twitter, "The president is making a deal with the devil and once again, the people of Kentucky are crushed in the process. At a time when we are fighting to protect human rights, this is a complete slap in the face. This is some bullshit."
For some progressives, Biden's willingness to nominate Meredith exemplified his failure thus far to meet the moment and use every tool at his disposal to protect abortion rights in the wake of the supreme court's decision.
Brian Fallon, the executive director of the progressive group Demand Justice, said on Thursday: "To recap last 48 hours, Biden: 1. Wont yet support gutting the filibuster to codify Roe 2. Is skeptical about using federal land in red states for abortion services 3. Has ruled out Court reform 4. Is reportedly set to nominate an anti-abortion GOP lawyer for a federal judgeship."
As of now, Meredith has not been nominated to the federal bench. If he is, Biden will probably set off a brutal battle between his administration and members of his own party.