Leah Thibault hangs up a sign alongside Tara Clark, center, Leif Maynard, right, and Gretchen Ascher, left, outside Sen. Susan Collins’ Portland office on Friday. The group of co-workers came together on their lunch break as a small protest against the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which was announced a few hours earlier.  Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Sen. Susan Collins long argued that Supreme Court nominees who told her they would uphold the court’s precedents would therefore protect women’s right to abortion under Roe v. Wade.

On Friday she was proven wrong, with immediate consequences for tens of millions of women across the country and possibly, in the future, in Maine.

The Supreme Court’s decision effectively overturning Roe – a departure from a half-century precedent that rolls back women’s rights and threatens to overturn same-sex marriage and other rights – was backed by Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, two appointees of former President Donald Trump whom Collins supported because they told her they would uphold such precedents.

Collins condemned the decision in a statement Friday, saying it was “inconsistent with what Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh said in their testimony and their meetings with me, where they both were insistent on the importance of supporting long-standing precedents that the country has relied upon.”

“The Supreme Court has abandoned a fifty-year precedent at a time that the country is desperate for stability,” Collins added. “This ill-considered action will further divide the country at a moment when, more than ever in modern times, we need the Court to show both consistency and restraint.”

“Throwing out a precedent overnight that the country has relied upon for half a century is not conservative. It is a sudden and radical jolt to the country that will lead to political chaos, anger and a further loss of confidence in our government,” she added.


Collins did not respond to an interview request.

During the confirmation hearings for Kavanaugh – a nominee who had been accused of sexual assault – Collins repeatedly said that her primary focus was the nominee’s respect for the decisions previously made by the court. One who respects such precedents, she argued, would not overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide. But she said she would not use Roe support as a litmus test for a nominee, even though Trump had pledged that all his nominees to the nation’s highest court would oppose Roe.

“A nominee’s personal views on Roe v. Wade are not relevant to my decision,” Collins told NewsCenter Maine (WCSH/WLBZ) just before Trump nominated Kavanaugh to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. “What is relevant is whether they’re committed to longstanding precedent.”

But experts at the time said this approach would in no way protect Roe because Supreme Court justices overturn precedents all the time.

Signs hang outside Sen. Susan Collins’ Portland office on Friday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“The fact that something is one of the court’s precedents plainly does not and has not stopped the court from revisiting the issue,” Lori Ringhand, associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Georgia School of Law and co-author of a book on the confirmation process, told the Press Herald at the time. “Precedent doesn’t bind justices.”

Others who pointed out this problem at the time were scathing in their assessment of Collins’ erroneous assumption that, in her own words before the U.S. Senate upon casting her vote, Kavanaugh’s “views on honoring precedent would preclude attempts to do by stealth that which one has committed not to do overtly.”


William Yeomans, a career Justice Department official who served as a Senate Judiciary Committee staffer and now teaches at Columbia Law School, warned in 2018 that “it should be taken for granted” that Trump’s nominees would vote to overturn Roe unless they explicitly said otherwise because the president had pledged that his nominees would do so.

Yeomans was blunt in his reaction to today’s ruling. “She either lied to her constituents or is too naive, gullible, and uninformed to be a United States senator,” he said via email. “Every reasonably informed person knew that Kavanaugh would vote to overturn Roe. Collins should step down.”

Paul Shiff Berman, a law professor at George Washington University, also warned in 2018 that Collins’ approach was faulty. Today’s ruling, he says, offers a lesson for senators.

“What this ruling demonstrates is that what judicial nominees say during confirmation hearings is essentially worthless and should not be relied upon by any senator,” Berman said in a telephone interview. “Instead senators should look at the prior history of the nominee and that prior history strongly suggested that both Kavanaugh and Gorsuch would, when given the opportunity, vote to overrule Roe v. Wade notwithstanding any statements or promise they might have made to any individual senator.”

The consequences, Berman said, were dire.

“I think that this ruling will increase the schisms that are growing in America between the states,” he said. “And so you will have states that will pass increasingly restrictive abortion laws and other states that will see themselves as havens for the right to choose and then you will start getting conflicts between those two groups of states. And those are the sorts of schisms that, at least in American history, have led to civil war.”

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who studies federal judicial selection, had praised Collins’ focus on protecting precedent ahead of Kavanaugh’s nomination in 2018.

“Maybe I was polite in giving her the benefit of the doubt, but it seems in retrospect if you looked at what Trump was saying at the time it seemed pretty obvious that he wasn’t going to appoint anybody he didn’t believe would overturn Roe v. Wade and he made that a litmus test for all of his nominees,” Tobias said Friday. “I think everybody knew that, including Susan Collins.”

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