A dissenting Monday argument from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in a Louisiana abortion-rights case brought Sen. Susan Collins’ 2018 vote to confirm him back to the forefront of the Republican’s upcoming re-election race.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law that would have required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the court’s four liberal justices, saying the Louisiana law was similar to a law in Texas the Supreme Court struck down in 2016.
Roberts wrote that, although he believed the Texas case was wrongly decided, he thought the Supreme Court should follow precedent. In a terse two-page dissent, Kavanaugh concurred with an opinion from Justice Samuel Alito that rejected some precedent from the 2016 case while saying he thought more fact-finding and another trial were needed.
Collins said in a Monday statement that she agreed with the court’s decision, breaking with most of her party. The Maine senator added that trying to ascertain how justices would vote on the broad question of legal abortion was “reading too much into this specific decision.”
“And while Justice Kavanaugh called for additional fact finding in this case, he gave no indication in his dissenting opinion that he supports overturning Roe,” she added, referencing the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that guaranteed abortion rights.
But Collins’ Democratic opponents, who have long been critical of her vote to confirm Kavanaugh, pointed to his dissent as further evidence that the most recently confirmed justice would not follow precedent with respect to abortion rights.
In a statement released by her Senate campaign, House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, the frontrunner in the three-way July 14 primary with backing from national Democrats, accused Collins of enabling attacks on abortion rights by voting for “anti-choice nominees.”
Lobbyist Betsy Sweet of Hallowell said that, while she was “thrilled” by the decision, Kavanaugh’s dissent was “not surprising to any of us.” Saco lawyer Bre Kidman, the third candidate in the primary, characterized Kavanaugh’s argument that more fact-finding was necessary as “intellectually dishonest.”
Collins, who has long differentiated herself from most Republicans by supporting abortion rights, angered liberals in 2018 when she voted to confirm Kavanaugh, who had a year previously ruled against allowing an undocumented teenager in federal custody to have an abortion.
The Maine senator said at the time that she was assured by Kavanaugh that he believed in the concept of precedent, including with respect to the landmark Roe v. Wade case. Collins has generally backed judicial nominees from presidents in both parties, including two high court justices appointed by former President Barack Obama who joined Monday’s majority opinion.
The decision is one of several abortion cases that have come before the court since Kavanaugh was seated. Shortly after taking to the bench in 2018, Kavanaugh sided with Roberts and the court’s liberal justices in declining to take a case which would have allowed states to deny Medicaid funds to women who went to Planned Parenthood for medical screenings, birth control and other health services. It is already illegal to use Medicaid funds to cover abortion costs.
But Kavanaugh dissented on another abortion case a few months later, arguing in February 2019 that a Louisiana law — the same law that was ultimately struck down Monday — should not have been temporarily blocked from going into effect.
Collins faces the toughest re-election campaign of her career this year, with several polls showing her neck-in-neck with Gideon. Several unenrolled candidates are also hoping to make the ballot alongside the incumbent and the Democratic nominee in November.