Susan Collins Just Signalled What The GOP’s Supreme Court Strategy Might Be
When news broke that Justice Anthony Kennedy would be retiring from the Supreme Court, giving President Donald Trump the opportunity to appoint another justice to the court, it became clear that the main issue in any confirmation battle would be a woman’s right to choose. Overturning the landmark SCOTUS case Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationally in many instances, has become a centerpiece of the modern Republican movement, and Trump himself has promised to appoint anti-choice justices if the occasion arose. He’s even gone so far to suggest that women who have abortions should be punished if one needed more clarification as to where the President stood on the matter of women’s bodily autonomy.
Take @realdonaldtrump at his word. He wants to “punish” women for exercising their reproductive freedom. He promised to nominate to SCOTUS someone who would “automatically” overturn Roe v. Wade. We need to fight like women’s lives and freedom are on the line. Because they are. pic.twitter.com/Fvnkof7omr
— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) July 1, 2018
As to be expected, many women’s rights activists, Democrats, and general pro-choice supporters hit the ground running the moment Justice Kennedy made his announcement, looking for a way to protect a woman’s right to choose in the face of potential legal troubles for Roe. One such pathway would be to convince certain moderate Republicans who have supported the 1973 decision to oppose any nominee that would overturn the ruling.
The President released a shortlist of 25 names in November 2017 from which he plans to pick a nominee for the soon to be vacated seat. All 25 names have been vetted by the Federalist Society, a powerful organization of highly conservative lawyers, and the list was developed in part by Leonard Leo, the organization’s executive vice president who has been integral to Trump’s judicial strategy in the past. While some names on the list have been rather silent on the issue of Roe, you’d have to eschew all logic and contextual reality to believe that the potential nominees are anything but hostile to reproductive rights (and yes, this particular hostility is a gateway towards many other terrifying stances regarding judicial precedent, but let’s take it one horror show at a time, shall we?).
One of the most important swing votes in the upcoming appointment battle is Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate who has occasionally voted against party lines in the past (something nearly unheard of in Trump’s Republican Party). On a circuit of Sunday shows this weekend, Collins said she would not vote for a nominee who showed hostility to Roe or stated a desire to overturn the legal precedent, which she views as the law of the land.
Susan Collins tells @jaketapper: “I would not support a nominee who demonstrated hostility to Roe v. Wade.”
Key word: DEMONSTRATED. If Trump picks a known pro-lifer who quietly preserves that option, she may vote yes.
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) July 1, 2018
And yes, here come the politics. Collins made sure to leave herself a myriad of escape routes in her press appearances, providing insight regarding how Republicans may plan to characterize this vote. In her conversation with Jake Tapper of CNN, Collins stated that she does not believe that Justice Neil Gorsuch would actually vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, a concept so removed from reality that it is almost laughable. While he has not spoken explicitly on his views on abortion, one can surmise from his closeness to the late Justice Scalia’s way of thinking and documented highly conservative values that he won’t be going to bat for Planned Parenthood anytime soon. Additionally, he’s participated in two cases that revolved around the intersection of religious beliefs and reproductive rights and each time sided with the plaintiffs that voiced objection to the ACA’s contraceptive mandate.
Yes, I suppose anything can happen, but resting one’s ideological decision-making on the hopes that a highly conservative justice will inexplicably vote against conservative ideals would seem a moral folly to me.
In an interview on The New York Time’s “The Daily” podcast, Collins also expressed the belief that Justice Roberts wouldn’t vote to overturn Roe, with respect to its longstanding precedent. Perhaps Roberts will hold true to his given comments regarding the importance of precedent, but again this places quite a lot of hope on the shoulders of a man who once said Roe was incorrectly decided and “should be overruled.”
What we’re starting to see here is a potential route moderate Republicans (namely Collins and Sen. Murkowski of Alaska) might use to give themselves some plausible deniability in the likely case that a nominee they supported helped overturn Roe. By voicing support of Roe publicly, but whispering caveats under their breath, they might be able to reckon with their collaboration in what could become one of the largest affronts to women’s rights in this generation. At best, it’s transparent politicking, and at worst it’s an attempt to gaslight one of the largest voting blocs in this country whilst attacking their civil rights.
This idea gains further credence when one considers Trump’s own comments this weekend, where he stated that he “probably won’t” ask his potential nominees whether or not they support the court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. By avoiding the issue as much as possible during the nomination and confirmation process, vulnerable Senators who represent constituents that respect a woman’s right to choose may gain some political cover while allowing Trump to galvanize the support of his Evangelical base who know that his picks are anti-choice by definition.
The Republican Party uses gaslighting as a tactic near as often as they use “family values” as a cover-up for promoting policies that harm families directly. What we are seeing happening with regard to the Supreme Court is nothing new – but justices are appointed for life, so the dangers of such a strategy are exponentially multiplied. Luckily these efforts are transparent and reveal the true moral backbone (or lack thereof) of those who participate in them.
At the very least, we know exactly where those that would attempt to vote against civil rights stand, come November.