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Johnathan Barbagello, a self-described concerned citizen

Johnathan Barbagello, a self-described concerned citizen, speaks at a press conference Monday along with members of the Pro-life Court Coalition to urge Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester to vote to confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.

HELENA — Blustery winds whipped signs held by 14 anti-abortion activists on the steps of the Capitol Monday, who came to Helena to implore Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester to support Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Members of the Pro-life Court Coalition held the event, which included abortion opponents Susan B. Anthony List, Concerned Women for America and Montana Family Foundation. Touting the social media hashtag #ConfirmGorsuch, the event was part of a national effort to garner confirmation support, including from Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018, according to a news release.

“I think when Donald Trump won the presidency, one of the biggest reasons was his promise to nominate pro-life justices to the Supreme Court,” said Bowen Greenwood with the Montana Family Foundation. “I think Americans want to see pro-life justices, and with Neil Gorsuch that promise has been kept.”

Greenwood cited Gorsuch’s book “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia,” which includes assertions about the intrinsic value of human life, as a major reason for optimism about the judge’s abortion views.

Greenwood also pointed to Gorsuch’s opinion in favor of Hobby Lobby in a highly publicized case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. Gorsuch voted with the majority on a circuit judge panel, agreeing that the Affordable Care Act violated the company’s religious freedom by compelling it to offer certain contraceptives in employee health plans.

“Americans deserve to make their own choices,” Greenwood said of the ruling.

Jonathan Barbagello, describing himself as a concerned citizen and unaffiliated with any group, said he believed it important to have a fully functioning judiciary.

“I really just ask and call upon Sen. Tester to give Gorsuch a yes vote, but I think Gorsuch just deserves an up or down vote. It shouldn’t be locked up in partisan gridlock. It’s a non-partisan issue,” he said.

The Supreme Court has operated with only eight justices following the death of Antonin Scalia more than a year ago. Majority Senate Republicans then refused to hold hearings for Obama nominee Merrick Garland, saying the nominee should come from the next president.

President Donald Trump nominated Gorsuch to the high court last month, and Republican Sen. Steve Daines has thrown his support behind the judge. Daines highlighted Gorsuch, a Colorado native, as bringing a Western perspective to the court.

When asked if his views on the need for a functioning judiciary included the lack of action on the Garland nomination, Barbagello said he believed there was no reason to delay confirmation of Gorsuch, but preferred not to comment on Garland.

When reached for comment, Tester’s team said he supports women’s rights to make their own health care decisions, and has concerns about Gorsuch’s views in the Hobby Lobby decision that will factor into his vote.

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"Jon is giving Judge Gorsuch a fair shake,” said Tester spokeswoman Marnee Banks. “He’s met with him face-to-face and is fully reviewing his qualifications. Jon knows the Supreme Court is too important to play politics with, that's why he is incredibly concerned about the special interests that have been trying to influence this important post.”

Greenwood called Tester’s willingness to meet with Gorsuch a “great step forward” and added “I think it means that he’s listening to Montanans.”

The Pro-life Court Coalition is not the only group targeting Montana for support of Gorsuch.

The pro-Gorsuch Judicial Crisis Network has been airing TV ads in Montana encouraging Gorsuch’s confirmation. The ads are part of a $10 million multi-media campaign including more than $2 million in TV and online ads in Montana, North Dakota and other states where Trump won by wide margins, according to national media outlets.

Committee to Defend the President, described as a project of Stop Hillary PAC, also released an ad late last month featuring Montana House Speaker Austin Knudsen. The ad touts Gorsuch and asks, “Sen. Tester, what’s he waiting for?” A committee news release says the ad and ad buy cost $200,000.

Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing has been scheduled for March 20.

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Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 @IR_TomKuglin

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