How Maine Democrats Can Save Roe v. Wade

Senate Democrats can’t stop the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh. But Susan Collins can. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

As I observed earlier today, the sad reality of the soon-to-be-intense fight over confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court is that if Senate Republicans stick together, he’ll be confirmed, period. And if it does become a party-line vote, Democrats will be forced to choose between (a) taking a dive and thereby angering the many rank-and-file members of their party who rightly fear Kavanaugh will, among other bad things, represent the fifth SCOTUS vote to overturn Roe v. Wade and eliminate the constitutional right to an abortion, or (b) placing pressure on their own Senate Conference to cast a futile vote against Kavanaugh, including several very vulnerable red-state senators who might thereby succumb to Republicans in November. It’s a classic damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation: surrender or frag your own wounded.

But there is an alternative, though it’s quite unconventional and a long shot to boot. There are two pro-choice U.S. senators who probably share (privately at least) the fears of abortion-rights supporters about Kavanaugh’s impact on Roe v. Wade. Susan Collins of Maine is up for reelection in 2020, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska faces voters in 2022, and we have no particular reason to think either is ready to retire any time soon. One of the main reasons each would have for supporting Kavanaugh is to head off a reelection bid in which they might face a right-bent anti-abortion primary opponent and then a viable Democrat. That’s particularly true of Collins; Murkowski probably doesn’t fear any general election opponent in strongly Republican Alaska. What if Maine Democrats took that incentive for party loyalty off the table by paving the way to an easy general election in 2020?

Let’s make this simple: Suppose Maine Democratic chairman Phil Bartlett called a press conference tomorrow and offered to endorse Collins’s reelection if she votes against Kavanaugh? If she took the bait, then Democrats would have it in their power to stop the judge’s confirmation by their own efforts, and that might justify endangering a Democratic senator or two if it meant forcing Trump to appoint a different kind of SCOTUS justice. And if Collins said “No thanks,” then Democrats would have at least demonstrated to their pro-choice supporters that they are willing to sacrifice their partisan interests to principle in so important a matter.

Now let me hasten to add that I don’t know Mr. Bartlett, have only been to Maine once in my life (many years ago), and do not possess a single clue as to whether Democrats in that state would even consider making this extremely unselfish Supreme gesture, and if so, whether it could be enforced on potential candidates. For all I know, the people that would be involved in this imaginary deal meet every night to vow eternal warfare against Collins.

But it’s as good an idea as I can come up with for a practical strategy that could defeat Kavanaugh. And for Democrats, it makes more sense than making poor Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Donnelly walk the plank and vote against Kavanaugh even if his confirmation is assured. If you’re going to do something dangerous in this emergency situation, it should be something that might actually make a difference.

Last Resort: How Maine Democrats Can Save Roe v. Wade