After her fellow Senate Republicans imposed an unprecedented, 11-month blockade on any Supreme Court nominee in 2016, Maine Sen. Susan Collins followed through on the partisan scheme a year later. After Donald Trump chose Neil Gorsuch to fill the high court's vacancy, Collins voted for him, expressing confidence that the conservative jurist would leave the Roe v. Wade precedent intact.
After hours of discussion with Kavanaugh, Collins concluded, "Protecting [the right to an abortion] is important to me. His views on honoring precedent would preclude attempts to do by stealth that which one has committed not to do overtly."
Not surprisingly, the GOP senator's votes received fresh scrutiny yesterday as both Gorsuch and Kavanaugh left little doubt that they're prepared to overturn the landmark 1973 ruling and allow states to again impose abortion bans. The public assurances Collins made about the justices she helped confirm led to awkward questions about the Republican's judgment — and the dramatic consequences millions of Americans will face if it turns out she was wrong.
It was against this backdrop that Collins' office said yesterday that the senator favors passing legislation to enshrine the protections of Roe v. Wade into law. NBC News reported:
"Senator Collins supports the right to an abortion and believes that the protections in the Roe and Casey decisions should be passed into law. She has had some conversations with her colleagues about this and is open to further discussions," a spokeswoman, Annie Clark, said in an email.
In other words, Americans currently have the ability to terminate unwanted pregnancies because, at least for now, the Supreme Court has said it's a constitutionally protected right. If — or more likely, when — Republican-appointed justices decide that right no longer exists, Congress can create a federal law that would restore the ability of women to get an abortion.
So, that's good news for proponents of reproductive rights, isn't it? The justices Collins helped confirm appear likely to do the opposite of what she predicted they'd do, but at least she'll put things right by codifying abortion protections into federal statute, won't she?
It's not quite that simple. Let's not forget that in September, in response to Texas' odious abortion ban, House Democrats approved the Women's Health Protection Act, which would enshrine reproductive rights into federal law. Collins announced her opposition to the bill.
The Republican senator's office added yesterday that Collins is prepared to support a more narrowly focused version of the legislation.
But even if Democrats were to weaken the bill at Collins' behest, it still wouldn't pass: To overcome a Republican filibuster, the legislation would need at least 60 votes. It currently has 48, and with Collins, it'd still be 11 votes short.
Sure, it's possible that some future Congress would have an enormous Democratic majority in the Senate, and Collins might someday represent the 60th vote, but given everything we know about the political landscape, that seems extraordinarily unlikely.
And that leaves Collins in an exceedingly difficult place: The Maine Republican went to bat for two conservative judges, confident in the knowledge that they'd leave abortion rights intact. As they prepare to prove Collins wrong, it appears to be too late for the senator to put things right.