Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, left, talks to reporters as she meets with Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday. Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

This time around, Maine’s senior U.S. senator, Susan Collins, doesn’t hold a critical, make-or-break vote that will determine whether the president’s Supreme Court nominee is confirmed.

But she is still finding herself courted as part of a Democratic effort to secure bipartisan support for President Biden’s pick, Ketanji Brown Jackson. Collins is the most likely prospect for a Republican vote.

Collins praised Jackson, who would replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, after an extended meeting with her at the Capitol last week, signaling she might support her confirmation.

“I thought it went well,” Collins said after the meeting. “She explained in great depth the methodology that she uses as she approaches the cases that come before her.  It’s clear that her credentials and the breadth of her experience are impressive.”

Collins, who declined to be interviewed for this story, said she would wait to make a final decision until after the Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearings, which begin March 21, but said she found her hour and a half meeting with Jackson “to be very helpful.”

In her 25 years in the Senate, Collins has voted against only one Supreme Court nominee: Amy Coney Barrett, who was nominated by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the then-Republican-controlled Senate eight days before the 2020 presidential election. Noting her Republican colleagues’ decision not to allow President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, to receive a confirmation hearing in an election year, Collins said the chamber “should follow the precedent set four years ago and not vote on a nominee prior to the presidential election.”


Her earlier vote to confirm another of Trump’s nominees, Brett Kavanaugh, undermined her support among Democratic voters in Maine both because of the rape allegations against him and because of fears that he would seek to overturn Roe v. Wade, despite Collins’ assertions that his declared support for past precedents would protect abortion rights. On Sept 21, Kavanaugh voted with four of his Republican-appointed colleagues to deny an emergency petition to block enforcement of a Texas law that bans nearly all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, a vote widely seen as foreshadowing the end of Roe v. Wade.

Unlike with Kavanaugh, Collins’ vote is unlikely to determine the final outcome of Jackson’s confirmation bid as Democrats narrowly control the Senate. But her vote is being closely watched anyway because she could provide the only Republican vote in favor.

Jackson, a judge on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, is considered highly qualified. Collins and other Republicans voted for her confirmation to her previous federal judgeships. If confirmed, she would be the first Black woman to serve on the nation’s highest court.

Maine’s junior senator, independent Angus King, has voted to confirm Jackson to lower courts and also signaled likely support.

“I’ve already voted for her, I think twice, and she’s immensely well qualified,” King told the Press Herald. “I haven’t met her but I intend to and will watch all or part of her Judiciary Committee hearing and make my final decision based on her temperament, character, legal ability, and judicial philosophy.”

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson meets with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 8. If confirmed, she would be the court’s first Black female justice. Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

But it’s Collins, not King, who is once again being closely watched during a Supreme Court confirmation process.


Jim Melcher, professor of political science at the University of Maine at Farmington, says having the confirmation be bipartisan matters.

“As an unelected institution, a lot of the legitimacy of the federal courts rests on the public feeling they are fair, that it’s not just one partisan gang against another on the bench,” he says. “Having some level of bipartisan support is important for the legitimacy of the Supreme Court.”

Carl Tobias, Williams Chair in Law at the University of Richmond School of Law in Virginia, agrees.

“Many former and present justices believe bipartisan support is critical because the Supreme Court doesn’t have the power of the purse or the power of the sword, so they depend on the public’s respect – in order to enforce its judgments, for example,” Tobias says, adding that he doubted Collins and other moderates were under strong pressure from the Republican Senate leadership to reject Jackson. “I think the Republicans can be pretty gracious right now because they have the 6-3 majority and the 2022 midterms are coming up and if they look like they are being too vicious to a nominee who by all rights is strongly qualified, that may not sit well with voters,” he says.

Collins is one of only three Republican senators, along with Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who voted with the Democratic majority to confirm Jackson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last year.

Murkowski has issued a statement saying her previous vote did not mean she would be supportive this time. Graham has signaled he won’t vote for Jackson after Biden failed to nominate his preferred candidate, South Carolina native J. Michelle Childs.


Most Republican senators voted against putting Jackson on the appeals court and are expected to vote no again. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has said; “She’s clearly a sharp lawyer with an impressive resume, but when it comes to the Supreme Court, a core qualification is judicial philosophy.”

Collins, meanwhile, has been lobbied by top Democrats. Her office has said Biden called her personally three times to talk about the nomination, and the Judiciary Committee’s chairman, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, called her within hours of learning of Justice Breyer’s intention to retire.

UMF’s Melcher says Collins is much more likely to look on a Democratic nominee dispassionately than most other members of her caucus.

“I think she really is an honest broker in that she wants these personal conversations with the nominees to mean something, and that’s a good thing,” he says. “This is a lifetime appointment and you do want to get a good sense of who they are and you probably get more of a sense of the temperament of a Supreme Court nominee when the doors are closed and the cameras aren’t rolling.”

Tobias of the University of Richmond Law School has been tracking the senators’ positions on confirming Biden’s federal court nominees and said Collins, Murkowski and Graham – a former Judiciary Committee chair – have stood out in trying to act fairly. ”

“They all share that notion that these are life-tenured appointments, but that it is better for them and for the courts to have bipartisanship,” he said. “My guess is that Collins will vote for Jackson just given her past record and what a strong nominee Jackson is.”


After her meeting with Jackson on Tuesday, reporters asked Collins if she was concerned about the relatively short confirmation hearing schedule and she signaled it was not a sticking point for her.

“I think it’s important to recognize that she has been confirmed three times now, so this is not a candidate who is a blank slate to us,” she said. “In addition, to spend more than an hour and a half, one-on-one with the judicial nominee, gives you quite a bit of information. And finally, I have confidence in Chairman Durbin to do a thorough and fair set of hearings.”

She said that while she didn’t agree with every decision Jackson had rendered, it was clear “she takes a very thorough, careful approach in applying the law to the facts of the case. And that is what I want to see in a judge.”

“Again, however, one never knows what’s going to come out in hearings,” Collins added, “so I will withhold my judgment until after the hearings are completed.”

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