The one person most responsible for the looming loss of abortion rights—aside from the president who appointed three anti-Roe justices—is Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who in October of 2018 became the 50th and deciding vote in the Senate for Brett Kavanaugh. He would not have been confirmed if it weren’t for Collins, who wanted women to believe as she did that he would keep his word to her.
He did not.
Maybe his fingers were crossed because whatever he said to Collins, it was a lie. Kavanaugh’s confirmation on a bare 50 to 48 vote was the beginning of the end for Roe v Wade, and everybody knew it except maybe Collins, who insisted Kavanaugh was telling her the truth, that he had such reverence for precedence, what they call stare decisis, which means “to stand by things decided,” that Roe would be safe in his hands.
Collins is pro-choice, moderation is her brand, and the pro-choice community waited with apprehension as she did due diligence on Kavanaugh. She assembled a team of 19 lawyers to help her go through his positions before spending two hours and fifteen minutes with the judge, where she claimed to secure his commitment to stand by the 1973 Roe decision and its successor, Planned Parenthood v Casey, the ruling that in 1992 reaffirmed Roe.
By the time Collins went to the Senate floor to deliver her nearly hour-long speech, which she dragged out to full effect until it felt more like a laying on of hands, cynicism had sprouted to the point where it seemed as though the fix was in. Collins was on board with this nomination no matter what, and when a last-minute bombshell revelation threatened to derail Kavanaugh, Collins was there in high dudgeon to denounce the supposed unseemliness of Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation of sexual assault.
She deplored the “steady decline in the dignity of the confirmation process” and “gutter politics” that she blamed on interest groups and activists on the left.
After the contentious hearings where Kavanaugh mounted an emotional defense, Collins said she met with him again and in that second meeting she again extracted what she believed was his commitment to uphold Roe. “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 3 of our Constitution itself. He believes that precedent is not just a judicial policy, it is constitutionally dictated to pay attention and pay heed to rules of precedent. In other words, precedent isn’t a goal or an aspiration. It is a constitutional tenet that has to be followed except in the most extraordinary circumstances. The judge further explained that precedent provides stability, predictability, reliance and fairness.”
There was an out, of course, that we’ll no doubt hear a lot about in the coming days and months, that on the rare occasion when the court corrects a “grievously wrong decision,” like Brown vs. The Board of Education overruling Plessy vs. Ferguson, or one that is deeply inconsistent with the law, then SCOTUS has an obligation to right the wrong.
Collins said at the time she is not naïve, that she knows how the court works, and she prided herself on asking all the right questions. “When I asked him would it be sufficient to overturn a long-established precedent if five current justices believed that it was wrongly decided, he emphatically said “no,” Collins told the Senate and the country in what has now become an infamous speech.
(On Tuesday morning, Collins released a statement that read in part: “If this leaked draft opinion is the final decision and this reporting is accurate, it would be completely inconsistent with what Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh said in their hearings and in our meetings in my office.”)
Collins won a fifth term in the Senate in 2020, and her re-election wasn’t even a close call. She was too eager to believe all that fluff about stare decisis, and now a constitutional right that has been in place for 50 years is about to be shattered on the wing of a promise to her that predictably turned out to be a lie.
Susan Collins told the women of America that they could trust her to protect their reproductive freedom. She let us down.