U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate Republican in a key position to influence the debate over who will replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, said Sunday that she would not vote for a nominee who sought to overturn the court’s precedent on abortion rights.

Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Maine’s senior senator said she would support nominees who consider Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision that overturned laws criminalizing or restricting access to abortion, a settled matter.

“(Chief Justice John) Roberts has made very clear that he considers Roe v. Wade to be settled law. I would not support a nominee who demonstrated hostility to Roe v. Wade,” Collins said.

Her remarks appeared to signal a shift in emphasis from comments she made last week. But her spokeswoman, Annie Clark, said Collins’ remarks Sunday did not push the senator’s position beyond where she stood last week. Speaking through Clark, Collins had told the Portland Press Herald that she would not apply ideological litmus tests to any nominee, but would instead focus on the nominee’s adherence to judicial precedents in making her decision.

Clark said that, as in the past, Collins will not ask for any nominee’s personal opinion on any specific issue, but would be looking to see whether the nominee would continue to uphold precedent, such as Roe v. Wade, which she considers a settled issue.

Collins also appeared Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” where she expressed similar statements about the Supreme Court fight.


Collins has been trying to walk a delicate line as she and a fellow moderate Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, come under intense pressure to buck their party and President Trump and support abortion rights in the high-stakes fight over Kennedy’s replacement. Both senators voted against the Republican health care reform bill last year.

Trump, who is moving quickly to identify his nominee, met with a half-dozen senators considered swing votes on Thursday, the day after Kennedy announced his retirement. They included Collins, Murkowski and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and three Democrats facing tough re-election fights: Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

Trump said he intended to meet with one or two possible nominees over the weekend and announce his pick July 9.

Collins is seen by abortion-rights supporters as key to blocking a nominee who does not pledge to support Roe v. Wade. Collins, who has championed women’s reproductive rights, played a key role in preventing Republicans from withholding funding of Planned Parenthood in 2015. She has repeatedly voted against restricting abortions.

Under current rules, nominees to the Supreme Court must be confirmed by a majority in the 100-member Senate. Republicans have 51 members, but Sen. John McCain may not be able to vote because of health issues, so confirming the nominee would require every other Republican senator’s support unless a Democrat crosses party lines.

Collins said she told Trump she was looking for a nominee who would demonstrate a respect for precedent.


“It is a very important fundamental tenet of our judicial system that helps to promote stability and evenhandedness,” she said.

She said she also told Trump not to stick to his list of 25 potential nominees, but to broaden it. They were picked by the Federalist Society, an organization of conservative and libertarian-leaning lawyers. Collins said she would have to do more work in vetting the names on the list, but at least one was a nominee she had voted against years before.

“I would have to do a great more work on many of them,” she said.

Collins said Trump told her at last week’s meeting that he would not ask the candidates about whether they would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“That is what he has most recently said on the advice of his attorney. I think what he said as a candidate may not have been informed by the legal advice he now has, that it would be inappropriate to ask a nominee how he or she would rule on a specific issue,” she said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Sunday on the CBS program “Face the Nation” that Trump doesn’t need to ask where nominees stand on overturning Roe v. Wade because his list has already been screened on that issue by the Federalist Society.


“State of the Union” host Jake Tapper asked Collins if she was concerned about Trump’s remarks as a candidate that abortion would be a litmus test for him on any Supreme Court nomination, and Vice President Mike Pence’s comment during the campaign that Roe v. Wade would be “consigned to the ash heap of history” if Trump was elected.

Tapper then asked Collins what she would say to the seven out 10 women who, according to some polls, support abortion rights.

“There is a big difference between overturning some precedents versus overturning a ruling that has been settled law for 45 years and involves a constitutional right that has been reaffirmed by the court 26 years ago,” she said.

Collins said Judge Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first appointee to the Supreme Court – whom she supported – understands the importance of precedent.

Tapper said one of the things that people who support abortion rights think about her is that she gets “played by these judges.”

“I know what the left is saying. That is so at odds with my record,” said Collins, noting that she has been consistently voted the most bipartisan senator.

“I care deeply who serves on the court,” she said. “I have voted against and for judges. I supported both of President Obama’s appointments. I ask probing questions to determine if they are going to be an activist judge with an agenda, which I don’t want on the left or the right.”


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