How Joe Biden’s deal with Mitch McConnell to seat an anti-abortion judge in Kentucky crashed and burned

America was holding its breath for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether it would strike down the constitutional right to an abortion — an outcome that seemed preordained after a leaked draft opinion in May.  

But President Joe Biden was ready to make a deal — or what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would later call “a personal friendship gesture.”

Dragged down by dismal approval ratings and facing midterms elections that seemed destined to hand Republicans control of Congress, Biden agreed to nominate the senator’s choice for federal district judge in Kentucky — a candidate the Republican leader had been trying to get on the bench since 2020.

His name was Stephen Chad Meredith — a conservative, Republican Federal Society member who had fought to strike down abortion access while serving as counsel for Republican Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky. The Biden White House was set to unveil the nomination on June 24 ― until, that is, the U.S. Supreme Court chose that very same morning to issue its monumental ruling striking down Roe v. Wade.

When The Courier Journal broke the story of Meredith’s intended nomination the next week, incensed Democrats and progressives saw it as a betrayal by the same president who had promised to do everything in his power to protect women’s right to abortion. The story of Meredith’s improbable nomination is a tale of back-channel agreements and political maneuvering that nearly elevated an unlikely candidate to federal judge before miscalculations, bad timing and public scrutiny brought it crashing down.

Here’s how it nearly came to be:

Late winter/early spring 2022: Mitch McConnell makes an overture
For more than two years, McConnell had been trying to get Meredith on the bench. Young, bright and with an established Federalist Society pedigree, Meredith was tailor-made for McConnell’s ambition to pack the nation’s courts with as many conservative judges as possible. But his attempt to get Meredith nominated for federal judge came to a halt under President Trump after Meredith’s ties to controversial pardons issued by departing Republican Gov. Matt Bevin prompted the White House to shelve his application.

But now with Biden in the White House, McConnell saw another opportunity. The two had forged a relationship in the Senate that spanned four decades and forged deals many times.