President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, has told Sen. Susan Collins of Maine that he considers the landmark abortion ruling Roe vs. Wade to be settled law, the moderate Republican senator said after meeting with him Tuesday.
But the exchange may reveal less about how Kavanaugh could rule on the issue of abortion than it does about how Collins might vote on his confirmation.
“We talked about whether he considers Roe to be settled law,” Collins said. “He said that he agreed with what [Chief] Justice [John G.] Roberts said at his nomination hearing, in which he said that it was settled law.”
Roberts said during his 2005 confirmation hearing that the Roe ruling was a settled Supreme Court “precedent.” Previously Roberts called it “settled law.” On the court, however, Roberts has joined conservative justices in voting to further restrict abortion rights and availability.
Democrats have a narrow margin to block Kavanaugh’s nomination, and Collins is one of the key senators they are hoping to persuade to vote no. Abortion access and the future of the landmark abortion rights ruling is a major factor for Collins. She has said she would not support a nominee who was hostile to the Roe decision, so Kavanaugh’s remarks seem to have been intended to alleviate such concerns.
In fact, most legal analysts are confident that Kavanaugh, if confirmed, would provide the fifth vote on the Supreme Court to restrict abortion rights and possibly overturn Roe. In a 2017 speech, Kavanaugh lauded late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist for dissenting in Roe vs. Wade.
After the more-than-two-hour meeting, Collins said she will not announce how she’ll vote until after his confirmation hearing in early September.
“You never know what questions are going to come up in a Judiciary Committee hearing where 21 individuals are going to be questioning him,” Collins said.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) downplayed Kavanaugh’s comment, noting that Trump has repeatedly vowed to select only Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe.
“Everything the Supreme Court decides is settled law until it unsettles it. Saying a case is settled law is not the same as saying a case was correctly decided,” Schumer said.
“With all due respect to Sen. Collins, ‘settled law’ means nothing,” NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement. “It is a bunch of code words, long used by many conservative judges, meant to hide their real beliefs and anti-choice record.”
Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) have bucked party leadership before, and they are facing intense pressure to join Democrats and block Kavanaugh’s nomination.
A poll released Tuesday by Public Policy Polling found that 49% of Maine voters want Collins to vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation, and 47% said they would be less likely to support her in the future if she backs him. The poll was done on behalf of healthcare advocacy group Protect Our Care.
The group’s executive director, Brad Woodhouse, said Collins’ comments suggest that she is satisfied by Kavanaugh’s stance, but advocates are going to keep pressing her.
“That told me that she’s probably leaning pretty strongly to a yes,” Woodhouse said. “I think she’s a yes until we convince her for some reason to be a no.”