This was originally published in The Daily Brief, our Maine politics newsletter. Sign up here for daily news and insight from politics editor Michael Shepherd.
It is hard to overstate the implications of a draft high-court decision leaked to Politico that says a conservative majority of the court has voted to overturn abortion rights. The news outlet calls the decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito, “a full-throated, unflinching repudiation” of Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that Alito calls “egregiously wrong from the start.” Under the decision, states could outlaw abortion or continue to allow them. Just under half of states would be poised to enshrine strict new limits.
The draft is from February. Alito is joined on his side of the issue by Republican-appointed justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, a lineup that remained the same this week, Politico noted. It remains unclear how many of them are backing Alito up on his exact opinion, as the indispensable SCOTUSBlog mentioned.
There are more caveats. Votes and the wording of decisions often change during the court’s process. Motives for the leak, while the subject of rampant speculation, are not known. But such a decision in a case coming out of Mississippi would have major implications at two levels of Maine politics.
Maine’s senior senator made confident predictions that Kavanaugh would not overturn Roe. The immediate attention in Maine politics went to Sen. Susan Collins, who provoked a national Democratic campaign for her seat in 2020 after her vote for Kavanaugh two years earlier. (The Republican is in favor of abortion rights and has voted for every justice confirmed during her tenure except for Barrett, whom she opposed on procedural grounds.)
Collins did not simply vote for Kavanaugh, though. Again and again, she got into predicting the future. She said Kavanaugh assured her that Roe was settled law. She felt vindication in 2018 when he rejected a case from conservative states seeking to defund Planned Parenthood.
In September, she criticized the court’s 5-4 decision to leave Texas restrictions in effect, saying the law was “extreme and harmful.” Her office declined to comment after Kavanaugh looked ready during oral arguments in the Mississippi case to allow new limits, saying it would wait for a decision. It did not respond to a Monday request for comment on the leaked decision.
This ruling could put abortion rights at the forefront of state-level campaigns. Maine has some of the nation’s most liberal abortion laws. They survived the eight-year tenure of anti-abortion former Gov. Paul LePage, who said during his 2014 reelection campaign that he was against “killing babies as a form of contraception.” Gov. Janet Mills and fellow Democrats in the Legislature have expanded abortion rights. LePage and Republicans could target those expansions and more if they take power here in 2022.
The lines between Mills and LePage on this are bright. But while abortion has featured in politics as a major issues for the conservative and liberal bases, Maine as a whole has consistently polled as one of the most pro-abortion rights states. Every two years, abortion restrictions are introduced by legislative Republicans, but the issue has not dominated recent State House campaigns.
In recent months, national Democrats’ so-called enthusiasm gap with Republican voters ahead of a midterm election for an unpopular President Joe Biden has been underwater in a sign of bad things to come for the majority party here in 2022. An urgent debate about abortion could rev up Democratic voters and rejigger the hierarchy of issues in play on the road to November.