Reaction to Sen. Susan Collins’ announcement that she will vote for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh — essentially ensuring his confirmation — reverberated throughout Maine and nationally.
Collins’ long-awaited opinion, which she has guarded for weeks, arrives on the brink of a final Senate confirmation vote Saturday, when President Donald Trump’s second U.S. Supreme Court nominee is likely to be granted a lifetime appointment to the high court.
Collins revealed her position at the end of a winding speech on Friday afternoon, praising the 53-year-old judge’s deference to judicial precedent and describing the nomination process as more like a “caricature of a gutter-level political campaign than a solemn occasion.”
“We’ve heard a lot of charges and counter-charges about Judge Kavanaugh, but as those who have known him best have attested, he has been an exemplary public servant, judge, teacher coach, husband and father,” Collins said. “Despite the turbulent, bitter fight surrounding his nomination, my fervent hope is that Brett Kavanaugh will work to lessen the divisions in the Supreme Court.”
Collins criticized the unprecedentedly politicized confirmation process and chided the threat it posed to the U.S. Constitution, which demands “the presumption of innocence and fairness,” the veteran senator said. These presumptions, she said, “bear on my thinking and I cannot abandon them.”
Responses to Collins were swift.
Melissa Braky was protesting with a crowd of nearly 15 people outside Collins’ Bangor office Friday afternoon as she listened to Collins address the Senate.
“This is a particularly emotional and painful time for women who are being re-traumatized by the news,” said Braky, who’s a registered nurse. “That Sen. Collins would vote for Kavanaugh is galling,” she said.
In Portland, Jenny O’Connell echoed a similar sentiment. “It’s just this feeling of being utterly ignored,” she told CBS 13. “I have a lot of respect for the Alaskan senator who chose not to. As we go forward, I’m ready to fight,” she said of Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who voted with Democrats Friday morning in a key procedural vote to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Republican Gov. Paul LePage tweeted his praise, calling Collins’ speech “a testament to her diligence and commitment to the principles of fairness and due process.” LePage has criticized Collins in the past when she broke with conservative orthodoxy.
The Maine Republican Party touted it as a “massive victory” in a fundraising email sent shortly after Collins finished her speech.
Former President George H.W. Bush also lauded Collins in a tweet for her “political courage and class. I salute my wonderful friend and her principled leadership.”
But people who advocate for sexual assault survivors in Maine expressed betrayal.
Members of the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, with whom Collins consulted Wednesday and several other times throughout the nomination process, warned of the example Kavanaugh’s expected confirmation sends to survivors of sexual assault.
“One year after the #MeToo movement was reignited, the U.S. Senate has told survivors that when they say #MeToo, it doesn’t matter,” Cara Courchesne, communications director for the coalition, said in a statement.
“The Senate’s decision to confirm Judge Kavanaugh not only shows sexual assault victims that when they do come forward they won’t be believed, but that credible testimony doesn’t mean justice,” Courchesne said. The Kavanaugh confirmation process “will be held out as an example for generations to come of why survivors suffer in silence and do not report.”
Nearly 20 religious leaders from across Maine, some of whom were arrested after protesting at Collins’ Portland office in December before she announced her support of the GOP tax reform bill in December, also condemned Collins’ decision.
“Those who voted Sen. Collins into office trusted her to speak for the silenced and stand with the vulnerable,” said the Rev. Jodi Hayashida of the First Universalist Church in Auburn. “In deciding to vote yes, she has betrayed that trust and instead chosen to align herself with the most powerful and privileged, wielding her power against the very people who needed her to fight for them.”
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