Rarely in history has a United States senator been so blatantly beclowned as Susan Collins was on Friday.
Four years ago this summer, the Republican senator from Maine announced that President Trump’s latest Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, had assured her that he believed the recognition of abortion rights in the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v Wade decision was “settled law.” Kavanaugh, a longtime conservative judicial activist, was lying, as was obvious to anyone who knew his record and was aware of his weak allegiance to the truth. Yet Collins announced that she believed Kavanaugh and, that fall, the senator cast the essential vote to put a justice who was widely understood to be opposed to abortion rights on the US Supreme Court.
Collins’s colleagues and constituents warned her that Kavanaugh’s assurance could not be trusted. Two hundred and thirty Maine attorneys urged her to reject President Trump’s nominee because of their certainty that he would use his position on the bench to overturn Roe.
But Collins was a willing dupe, who placed her Republican Party affiliation ahead of her long-proclaimed pro-choice position.
Now, Kavanaugh has joined the activist majority on the high court in overturning Roe, with a sweeping decision that rejects almost five decades of precedent, as outlined in the 1973 ruling and the 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that sustained it. And, on the outside chance that there was any doubt about his position, Kavanaugh wrote a concurring opinion that added insult to injury by absolutely rejecting the notion that Roe was ever “settled law.”
In his concurrence, Kavanaugh declared that Roe was “wrongly decided” and pointedly asserted that the 49-year-old decision “should be overruled at this time.”
Kavanaugh formed part of a 6-3 majority. So his was not the decisive vote to overturn Roe. Unfortunately for Collins, another Trump nominee for whom she provided cover, Neil Gorsuch, also joined the majority. So it’s fair to say, as the group Mainers for Accountable Leadership did on Friday, “Senator Collins, the overturning of Roe and Casey is your legacy.”
Kavanaugh rubbed salt in the wound with his concurrence’s clear rejection of the legal principle of stare decisis—which translates from Latin as “to stand by things decided”—in the case of abortion rights. He wrote, “Adherence to precedent is the norm, and stare decisis imposes a high bar before this Court may overrule a precedent. This Court’s history shows, however, that stare decisis is not absolute, and indeed cannot be absolute.”
Those words shame Collins, who in the fall of 2018 was in a position to prevent the confirmation of Donald Trump’s most controversial nominee to the court. Instead, she provided essential cover for Kavanaugh—promising her fellow senators and people across the country that the former Bush administration aide would not work to undermine, let alone overturn, the Roe v. Wade decision. In so doing, as Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin has explained, Collins “did more to destroy reproductive rights than any single senator.”
As one of the few remaining self-proclaimed supporters of abortion rights in the congressional caucuses of the Republican Party, Collins was identified as a critical swing vote on the Kavanaugh nomination. She met with the nominee for two hours and emerged as his most important defender. Collins vouched for Kavanaugh, even after California college professor Christine Blasey Ford testified that he had assaulted her when they were high school students.
Collins actively campaigned for Kavanaugh, delivering a Senate floor speech that went all in on the argument that the nominee’s acceptance of Roe as “settled law” was deeply rooted in his reading of the US Constitution. “To my knowledge, Judge Kavanaugh is the first Supreme Court nominee to express the view that precedent is not merely a practice and tradition, but rooted in Article III of our Constitution itself,” Collins declared in the October 2018 address. “He said decisions become part of our legal framework with the passage of time and that honoring precedent is essential to maintaining public confidence.”
That was never a credible argument. But it was sufficient to shore up support for the nominee at a point when at least some Republicans—along with West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin—were wavering on whether to vote to confirm Kavanaugh. In the end, Manchin joined Collins and every Republican, except Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, in putting Trump’s nominee on the high court.
When the decision to overturn Roe came down Friday, Collins announced, “This decision is inconsistent with what Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh said in their testimony and their meetings with me, where they both were insistent on the importance of supporting long-standing precedents that the country has relied upon.”
She even suggested that she would make an effort to codify aspects of Roe, along with Murkowski. But her refusal to work with Democrats to upend the Senate filibuster means that Collins’s codification promise rings hollow—as hollow as her promise that “I would not support a nominee who demonstrated hostility to Roe v. Wade.”
Despite her promises to defend Roe, Maine’s “Collins Watch” project spoke the bitter truth after the court’s ruling was released, when it declared, “If Susan Collins was the steadfast abortion rights supporter she’s always presented herself as, she would of course resign at this point for her outsized complicity in the outcome.”