“I feel that the justices that I am going to appoint—and I've named 20 of them—the justices that I'm going to appoint will be pro-life,” he said, referring to the lists of judges he’s published to woo conservative skeptics. “They will have a conservative bent. They will be protecting the Second Amendment. They are great scholars in all cases, and they're people of tremendous respect. They will interpret the Constitution the way the founders wanted it interpreted. And I believe that's very, very important.”
During one revealing exchange, Wallace asked Trump directly if he wants the Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“Well, if that would happen, because I am pro-life, and I will be appointing pro-life judges, I would think that that will go back to the individual states,” Trump replied.
Wallace asked for a more specific answer. “If they overturned it, it will go back to the states,” Trump said, describing an outcome instead of his true preference.
“But what I'm asking you, sir, is—you just said you want to see the court protect the Second Amendment,” Wallace said. “Do you want to see the court overturn Roe v. Wade?”
“Well, if we put another two or perhaps three justices on, that's really what's going to be—that will happen,” Trump attempted to explain. “And that'll happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court. I will say this: It will go back to the states, and the states will then make a determination.” Wallace gave up and turned to Clinton, who delivered a strong defense of abortion rights.
Contrast that evasiveness with George W. Bush’s answer to a similar question during the first 2000 presidential debate. Asked then whether he would appoint justices who would overturn Roe, Bush instead assured Americans he would have “no litmus test on that issue or any other issue” and that he would “put competent judges on the bench.”
But he also clearly signaled his ideological preferences to his supporters. “I believe that the judges ought not to take the place of the legislative branch of government,” he added. “They shouldn't misuse their bench. I don't believe in liberal activist judges. I believe in strict constructionists. Those are the kind of judges I will appoint.”
Trump’s unfamiliarity with basic conservative legal stances also cost him at a crucial moment. At one point, Wallace asked Clinton about D.C. v. Heller and whether she still thought the Supreme Court was still “wrong on the Second Amendment.” Clinton began by saying she believed in “reasonable regulation” on gun ownership, then addressed the case itself.
“You mentioned the Heller decision,” she said. “And what I was saying that you referenced, Chris, was that I disagreed with the way the court applied the Second Amendment in that case, because what the District of Columbia was trying to do was to protect toddlers from guns and so they wanted people with guns to safely store them. And the court didn't accept that reasonable regulation, but they've accepted many others. So I see no conflict between saving people's lives and defending the Second Amendment.”