“When Collins delivered her floor speech, ‘she guaranteed that she would own every single thing he did,’ said Amelia Penniman, spokeswoman for the progressive research PAC American Bridge. ‘Every single damaging vote he casts is going to be tied to Susan Collins.’”
Maine Beacon: Sen. Collins’ legacy, and her re-election, may be tied to Kavanaugh
By Robin Bravender | February 13, 2019
Whether she likes it or not, Sen. Susan Collins can expect to take heat just about every time Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh takes a conservative stance on a polarizing legal issue.
That was evident last week after Kavanaugh broke from his colleagues in an abortion ruling. The Supreme Court’s majority blocked a Louisiana law that would have restricted access to abortions in the state, but Kavanaugh argued the law should have gone into effect.
Groups that criticized Collins after her pivotal vote last year to confirm Kavanaugh seized on his dissent in the Louisiana case to accuse the Maine Republican of “outright hypocrisy,” given her stated support for abortion rights. Collins said last August that Kavanaugh had told her he considers Roe v. Wade to be “settled law,” and that she took this to mean that he wouldn’t seek to overturn or diminish abortion rights.
“His views on honoring precedent would preclude attempts to do by stealth that which one has committed not to do overtly,” Collins said in an October 2018 speech from the Senate floor, during which she announced her support for Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
A threat to abortion rights?
Abortion rights advocates were quick to assail Collins in the wake of Kavanaugh’s dissent last week.
“It only took Kavanaugh four months into his lifetime appointment on the bench to prove that Susan Collins’ insistence that he would respect precedent was a complete lie,” NARAL Pro-Choice America said in a memo. “And now, she must own that, and answer to the millions of people in this country … who thought they could count on her to keep her word on her commitment to preserving Roe.”
NARAL spokeswoman Amanda Thayer told Beacon in an email, “We’ll continue to educate Senator Collins’ constituents on the vital role she played in tipping the scales of the Supreme Court against abortion access and choice, and her outright hypocrisy on the issue.”
Collins’ spokeswoman Annie Clark did not respond to a request for comment for this story but told the Associated Press on Feb. 9, “A lot of the critics of Justice Kavanaugh’s dissenting opinion haven’t even read it.”
George A. Hill, president and CEO of Maine Family Planning, rejects that accusation, telling Beacon, “We have, in fact, analyzed Justice Kavanaugh’s dissent – and it proves that we were right to warn Susan Collins that Kavanaugh puts abortion rights at risk. She didn’t listen. And now she appears to be refusing to take responsibility for the game-changing decision she made.”
A matter of responsibility
Collins herself seems to feel at least somewhat responsible for Kavanaugh’s actions on the court. When asked by reporters in December if she felt “vindicated” for her support after Kavanaugh ruled with the majority not to hear a case that could have allowed certain states to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, she responded, “I certainly do.”
The progressive advocacy group Demand Justice started running ads in Maine last week targeting Collins in light of Kavanaugh’s decision, according to Facebook’s ad archive. One ad says, “Brett Kavanaugh just declared war on Roe v. Wade — and Senator Susan Collins helped him do it. … Collins let herself be played.” Another features video of Collins saying, “I do not believe he’s going to repeal Roe v. Wade,” and shows Collins and Kavanaugh smiling in a meeting ahead of his confirmation last year.
A speech that saved a nomination
There’s a widespread perception that Collins’ vote elevated Kavanaugh to the high court, in part because of the dramatic fashion in which she ultimately announced her support – a lengthy floor speech defending him from accusations of sexual assault.
Kavanaugh squeaked by in a 50-48 vote, with just one Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, endorsing him. Donald Trump Jr. accused Manchin of waiting for Collins before announcing his support.
When Collins delivered her floor speech, “she guaranteed that she would own every single thing he did,” said Amelia Penniman, spokeswoman for the progressive research PAC American Bridge. “Every single damaging vote he casts is going to be tied to Susan Collins.”
Legal experts say there’s been no situation in recent decades in which a single senator has been similarly perceived by the public to have elevated a justice to the Supreme Court.
“It’s highly unusual,” said Carolyn Shapiro, co-director of the Institute on the Supreme Court of the United States at the Chicago-Kent College of Law at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Will Collins pay a price?
Some of the 11 Democrats who voted for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991 later faced criticism from within their own party for having backed a nominee who was publicly accused of sexual harassment. One of those Democrats, Alan Dixon of Illinois, lost his seat in a primary race to Carol Moseley Braun, who went on to win the race. Dixon said years later, “Of course I was beat because I voted for Clarence Thomas.”
Collins’ vote for Kavanaugh has been targeted due to a number of factors, said Alan Morrison, the Lerner Family Associate Dean for Public Interest & Public Service at George Washington University Law School.
The Maine senator is facing re-election in 2020, and she was widely thought as someone who might vote the other way on Kavanaugh, he said. “The Democrats are taking this as an opportunity… Anything that Kavanaugh does that anybody doesn’t like, they can say, ‘See, I told you.’”
Collins can expect a similar backlash from the left any time Kavanaugh weighs in on hot-button issues. Those could include possible future cases dealing with abortion, gay rights, partisan gerrymandering and environmental issues.
“The place where you’re most likely to see it is where Kavanaugh votes in ways that are likely to be different from where [Supreme Court Justice Anthony] Kennedy voted,” said Michael Dorf, a professor at Cornell Law School who clerked for Kennedy. Kavanaugh was appointed by President Donald Trump to fill Kennedy’s seat when he retired.
“Collins portrays herself as a kind of old-style New England Republican,” who’s fiscally conservative but socially liberal, Dorf said. “I think that each time Kavanaugh casts a vote that is socially conservative or at least is read that way, there will be efforts to link Collins to those votes.”
‘Most vulnerable GOPer’
Collins, who has represented Maine in the Senate since 1997, said last month that she’ll make a final decision about whether to run toward the end of 2019. In other media appearances she has strongly indicated that she intends to seek re-election.
American Bridge declared Collins “the most vulnerable GOPer in 2020 by a mile,” in a January memo. “Collins’s support for Kavanaugh will go down in history as the beginning of the end of her career.”
While Collins’ vote for Kavanaugh sparked outrage on the left, it also fueled campaign contributions from those who supported her decision.
The Huffington Post reported last week that Collins had the best fundraising quarter of her career at the end of 2018, fueled in large part by donors outside of Maine motivated by her vote for Kavanaugh.
Despite Kavanaugh’s dissent in the Louisiana case, Collins has doubled down on her assurances that he will ultimately uphold Roe v Wade. On Monday she told reporters: “He said under oath many times, as well as to me personally many times, that he considers Roe to be ‘precedent upon precedent’ because it had been reaffirmed in the Casey v Planned Parenthood case.”
Read the article online here.
Published: Feb 13, 2019