Yesterday morning, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a Mississippi abortion case that could overturn the 1973 ruling Roe v. Wade. After one particular justice who said in his 2018 confirmation hearings that he saw Roe as settled law seemed pretty OK with that happening, one particular “pro-choice” Republican senator who voted for that Justice went into damage-control mode.
Yes, I’m talking about Brett Kavanaugh and Susan Collins (R-Maine). Collins reportedly greenlit Kavanaugh before President Donald Trump announced him as a nominee and made a long-winded speech on the Senate floor proclaiming that she believed Kavanaugh would uphold precedent, including Roe, before voting for him.
Assuming the three most conservative members of the court — Justices Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil M. Gorsuch — are prepared to overrule Roe entirely, Chief Justice Roberts would need to attract at least two votes for a narrower opinion, one upholding the Mississippi law but not overruling Roe in so many words, to be controlling. But the most likely candidates, Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, said little to suggest that they were inclined toward that narrower approach.
In fact, Kavanaugh said some things that made it seem like he supported the Court overturning Roe:
...Justice Kavanaugh said that some precedents deserved to be overruled.
“If you think about some of the most important cases, the most consequential cases in this court’s history, there’s a string of them where the cases overruled precedent,” he said, listing several, notably Brown v. Board of Education, which barred segregation in public schools.
“Why then doesn’t the history of this court’s practice with respect to those cases tell us that the right answer is actually a return to the position of neutrality?” he asked.
Arguments ended just before noon eastern time. At 2pm, when reporters asked Collins about Kavanaugh’s statements, she said she hadn’t listened to the arguments and would reserve comment until she had, which is kind of like when Republican Senators said they hadn’t seen Trump’s tweets threatening to invade another country.
Then around 6pm, Collins said that she now supports enshrining the holdings of Roe into federal law rather than in Supreme Court opinions. A spokesperson told NBC News: “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.” The House passed a bill that does this, the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), but Collins said she opposed it in late September because it “goes too far.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the hearing that WHPA would get a floor vote.
Collins’ statement, like much of the rest of her career, is cravenness shrouded in performative concern. The Women’s Health Protection Act needs 60 votes to pass the Senate, which it doesn’t have, or 50 Senators would need to be willing to change the filibuster to pass the bill with a simple majority, and there aren’t enough votes to do that either. Collins herself doesn’t support changing the filibuster, so saying she supports a bill to protect abortion rights which can’t pass without the changes is totally meaningless and she knows it. But here she is getting headlines saying she wants to codify abortion in federal law.
Collins is doing nothing more than trying to cover her ass. Your choice whether you’re going to fall for it.