Susan Collins (R-ME) is currently poised to be one of a handful of swing votes in the Senate which will determine whether Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s nominee to replace Supreme Court Justice Kennedy, will pass the hearings.
As a centrist Republican, Collins has often oscillated between supporting the Trump agenda and standing starkly against it, even when she is the only one doing so. She has served in the Senate since 1996, often winning in landslide victories of 60% or more.
In a public statement to Kavanaugh’s nomination, Collins said, “Judge Kavanaugh has impressive credentials and extensive experience… I will conduct a careful, thorough vetting of the President’s nominee to the Supreme Court, as I have done with the five previous Supreme Court Justices whom I have considered.”
Collins was the first woman in the history of Maine to win a major-party nomination for Governor. Here’s what you need to know.
1. She’s One of Two Pro-Choice Republicans Currently in the Senate
Among the Republicans in the Senate, only Collins and Senator Lisa Murkowski are pro-choice. Given that Justice Kennedy was a swing voter with a history of supporting abortion rights, Collins has stated her preference to elect a similarly centrist Republican candidate. “But what I’m most looking for is a justice who will follow the law and the Constitution, who has the judicial temperament that I look for.”
Justice Roberts is now widely considered to be the swing vote of the Supreme Court, now that Kennedy is retiring. Though Roberts is a hard-line conservative on many issues, he’s been indirect about his positions on abortion and his opinion on the potential to reverse Roe v. Wade in the past.
During his own appointment, Roberts said, “There’s nothing in my personal views based on faith or other sources that would prevent me from applying the precedents of the Court faithfully.”
Gorsuch was just as evasive in his own hearing, as he declared that Roe was the “law of the land”, and then later simply referenced it as a “precedent of the United States Supreme Court.”
2. She Recently Confirmed That She Will Not Approve Any Supreme Court Appointees Who Are “Hostile” to Roe v. Wade
In an interview with CNN (as seen above), Collins confirmed that she would only vote for a Supreme Court nominee who respected precedent, which she believes to be “a fundamental tenet of our judicial system.”
Collins went on to confirm that she would not vote for any nominee who was “hostile” to Roe v. Wade, and that any nominee’s indication to do so “would mean to me their judicial philosophy did not include a respect for established decisions, established law.”
What’s more, to ABC News Collins said, “A candidate for this important position who would overturn Roe v. Wade would not be acceptable to me, because that would indicate an activist agenda that I don’t want to see a judge have.”
3. She’s Been Criticized for Voting For Justices Neil Gorsuch & Neil Roberts in the Past
Despite his strong pro-choice stance on abortion, Collins has voted two conservative justices to the court in the past. Of her decision to appoint Gorsuch, Collins said in an official statement,
“Judge Gorsuch is an individual with great integrity and extraordinary intellect who has a deep respect for the law…Among the wide variety of issues we discussed, I was struck by three in particular: First, Judge Gorsuch indicated that he has a high regard for the role and importance of precedent; second, he made it clear that he will be a fierce defender of our independent judiciary; and third, Judge Gorsuch assured me that no one at the White House has asked him to commit to ruling a certain way on any case.”
Of her history of supporting pro-life candidates, and her persistent claims that these pro-life candidates would not reverse Roe v. Wade if provided the opportunity, Kevin Drum of Mother Jones wrote, “Is Susan Collins the most gullible person on the planet?”
4. Abortion Activists Sent Her Coat Hangers to Remind Her What Women Do When Abortion Isn’t Legal
As a reminder of the extreme measures women take to perform at-home abortions when the procedures aren’t readily available, abortion activists have been mailing Collins wire hangers.
On June 29, following a comment a Collins aide made about how the senator “does not apply ideological litmus tests to nominees”, women began taking pictures of their hanger orders and posting them to Twitter, turning the #HangersForCollins hashtag into a trend.
Via The Cut, Ezra Levin, a co-founder of the pro-choice group Indivisible, said, “I want to be clear that a vote for any of the proposed nominees on Trump’s list is a vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Susan Collins cannot simultaneously say she supports Roe v. Wade and support anybody on that list; that would be quite hypocritical.”
5. She Has a Conflicted Voting Record for Trump Appointments
Though Collins claimed that she met with Trump to discuss his list of potential appointees and that she will not vote for a nominee who is likely to overturn Roe v. Wade, she has a conflicted history of her loyalty to the Trump administration. As stated above, she voted in both Gorsuch and Roberts, and she also worked with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to cut a tax deal in 2017 which ultimately failed, costing her a deep dive to her approval ratings in Maine.
However, Collins has also worked against the administration in the past as well, voting against Scott Pruitt’s nomination to the EPA and against Betsy DeVos’s nomination to Education Secretary.
One such New York Times op-ed by David Leonhardt summarized the fear of many that she will succumb to her willingness to believe that a conservative Justice might not overturn Roe v Wade in the following statement:
“Collins wants to be seen as a centrist — to the left of most of her fellow Republicans and to the right of the Democrats. And that would be reasonable if Collins consistently made substantive decisions that were centrist. The trouble comes when she is willing to neglect substance and put the highest priority on appearing centrist, regardless of the content of her actions.”
Whether or not Collins will vote Kavanaugh in remains to be seen, but it’s clear that all eyes are on her and Murkowski.