Susan Collins won election to the Senate by running as a pro-choice Republican who would put Mainers, and ideological moderation, above her party and its orthodoxy.
Brett Kavanaugh won nomination to the Supreme Court by being a longtime GOP operative and friend of the Federalist Society —a right-wing legal network that exists to ensure no Republican president ever nominates a judge who lacks fealty to conservative orthodoxy (especially, on abortion) ever again.
There is some uncertainty about whether Kavanaugh would be the fifth vote for overturning Roe v. Wade (it’s possible that the court’s new anti-choice majority will find decapitating the precedent less prudent than quietly bleeding it dry). But there is no doubt that he will be a fifth vote for enabling red states to further nullify reproductive rights through draconian regulations on abortion providers. And Kavanaugh is just as certain to rule with the reactionary right on most every jurisprudential controversy, from protecting corporate “speech,” to eviscerating voting rights, to restricting the federal government’s capacity to regulate the economy. He also may have committed perjury the last time he was confirmed to a federal judgeship.
And yet, Susan Collins has signaled that she’s happy to make her constituents look stupid by (once again) playing Mitch McConnell’s useful idiot. Over the weekend, Collins told the Portland Press Herald that she believes Kavanaugh will uphold Roe v. Wade because he often describes the decision “as precedent upon precedent.” When the Press Herald confronted her with an email Kavanaugh had sent as Bush administration official in 2003 — in which he’d written, “I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since Court can always overrule its precedent, and three current Justices on the Court would do so” — Collins said that this did not “concern her.”
And that has concerned many a Mainer and progressive. In mid-August, liberal activists started a crowdfunding campaign that aimed to raise $500,000 for Collins’s Democratic challenger in 2020 — a sum that it pledged to return to donors if the incumbent Republican votes “no” on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination.
As of this writing, that campaign has raised more than $878,000.
This still might not be enough to put the fear of losing reelection into Collins. As of late July, she had the tenth-highest home-state approval rating of any U.S. senator at 56 percent, according to Morning Consult. Incumbency is incredibly powerful in Senate elections, and even more so in those of small states — where longtime senators have had the opportunity to put in a great deal of face time with constituents. Nevertheless, Maine is a blue state in presidential elections, ticket-splitting is on the decline, Democratic turnout is likely to be high in 2020, and Collins’s claim to pro-choice bona fides is a key pillar of her appeal. It’s not impossible that progressives could make her pay an electoral price for selling out reproductive rights.
Collins has held open the possibility that she will buck her party on Kavanaugh. In her interview with the Press Herald, Collins said that she was undecided on the judge’s nomination — and evinced concern about the possibility that Kavanaugh lied under oath during his confirmation hearing to be a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2004, Kavanaugh told the Senate that he wasn’t involved in the vetting process for Judge William Pryor; newly released emails suggest that he was.
“If in fact (Kavanaugh) was not truthful, then obviously that would be a major problem for me,” Collins told her local paper.
If Collins caves to liberal pressure, Democrats will still need the Senate’s other pro-choice Republican, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, to break ranks. That isn’t inconceivable — Alaska native groups are lobbying Murkowski to oppose Kavanaugh, who has a record of ruling against indigenous rights.