U.S. Sen. Susan Collins speaks at a debate hosted by News Center Maine, the Bangor Daily News and the Portland Press Herald earlier this month. Credit: Gabrielle Mannino | NEWS CENTER Maine

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told The New York Times earlier this month October was too late to fill an opening on the Supreme Court in comments published after the Friday death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Ginsburg, the second woman ever appointed to the Supreme Court, was known as a trailblazer for women’s equality who often wrote fiery dissents on the male-dominated court. The liberal justice’s death was expected to set off a firestorm as it gives the Republican-led Senate the opportunity to confirm another justice to give conservatives a 6-3 majority on the bench.

Collins’ reported reticence to confirm a new nominee comes amid a nationally targeted reelection race that kicked off after her 2018 vote for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. She has trailed House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, in polls so far in 2020.

When Justice Antonin Scalia — a conservative justice and close friend of Ginsburg — died in February 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, refused to hold confirmation hearings for President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, citing an election year. Collins was one of only a handful of Republicans open to voting on Garland.

But McConnell said in a Friday night statement that he planned to bring a justice before the Senate for a vote. In one of her last statements to family, Ginsburg said it was her “fervent wish” that she would not be replaced until after a new president was installed, NPR reported. Democrats would need to convince four Republicans to vote with them to block a nomination.

The Maine senator did not mention any confirmation process in a Friday statement mourning Ginsburg and calling her “a trailblazer for women’s rights, a fierce champion for equality, and an extremely accomplished American who broke countless barriers in the field of law.”

Her office and campaign did not respond to requests for comment on what the Senate should do next. But Collins told the Times that confirming a high court justice in October is “too close” to the election and she would also oppose seating one in a lame-duck session if President Donald Trump loses the November election to former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, indicated earlier Friday that she would not vote to confirm a nominee until after voters had the chance to decide who the next president is, Alaska Public Media reported.

Other Maine political figures expressed sorrow at Ginsburg’s death Friday night while opposing immediate confirmation of a new justice. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said Friday night that McConnell should honor Ginsburg’s life by “respecting her final wish that a successor should not be considered until the election has been decided.”

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from the 1st District, called Ginsburg a “reliable voice for the downtrodden and disenfranchised” and praised her defense of reproductive rights and gender equality in a statement.

In a statement Friday night, Gideon called Ginsburg a “giant for justice,” praising her work on women’s rights and reproductive rights.

“Let us continue that fight in her memory and be inspired by her example for generations to come,” Gideon said.

Lisa Savage, an independent in the race, said Ginsburg would be missed “more than words can express.” Neither Savage nor Gideon mentioned filling her seat.

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Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...