A justice who told U.S. Sen. Susan Collins four years ago that he viewed the Roe v. Wade decision as “settled law” helped overturn it on Friday, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh writing the landmark abortion case was wrongly decided.
The Dobbs vs. Jackson decision upends the landscape for abortion rights in the U.S., with the procedure that has been mostly legal for 50 years now set to be illegal in dozens of states. It will remain legal in Maine for now.
The decision also drags Maine’s senior U.S. senator back into the spotlight as Collins, one of the few Republicans to publicly support abortion rights, was a key vote to confirm Kavanaugh and cited in part his reassurance that he viewed Roe v. Wade as an important precedent.
In a statement on Friday, she said the ruling was inconsistent with what he and Justice Neil Gorsuch had told her prior to their confirmations and characterized it as a “sudden and radical jolt to the country.”
Kavanaugh wrote in a concurring opinion published on Friday alongside the court’s decision that Roe v. Wade was “wrongly decided” and “should be overruled at this time.”
“Instead of adhering to the Constitution’s neutrality, the Court in Roe took sides on the issue and unilaterally decreed that abortion was legal throughout the United States up to the point of viability,” he wrote.
In oral arguments last December, Kavanaugh was among the justices who indicated skepticism of the Roe v. Wade decision. He noted other examples of historic cases that had overturned precedents and questioned whether the court should be weighing in on abortion rights at all, a line of questioning that left opponents of abortion rights encouraged.
“Why should the court be the arbiter?” Kavanaugh said at the time. “There’ll be different access in Mississippi and New York, Alabama and California.”
After a draft decision overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked to Politico in early May, Collins said that the apparent positions of Kavanaugh and Justice Neil Gorsuch, both of whom she voted to confirm to the high court, were “completely inconsistent” with what she had heard from them during their confirmation processes.
Collins faced heavy pressure from Democrats to oppose Trump’s judicial nominees, most notably Kavanaugh. Amid a heated confirmation debate in 2018, reproductive rights advocates argued that his previous judicial writings suggested he would rule against legal abortion, despite his claims in his confirmation hearing that he viewed the case as “important precedent.”
The Maine senator voted to confirm him, saying he had told her he saw Roe v. Wade as “settled law.” Collins later voted against confirming Barrett, although she cited the proximity of the nomination to the 2020 presidential election rather than concerns about the nominee’s beliefs.
She has backed narrow efforts to codify the Roe v. Wade decision and other high court decisions that formed the foundation for modern abortion rights in the U.S., while opposing a broader Democratic abortion rights bill. But all those efforts have largely appeared doomed in the U.S. Senate, where 10 Republican votes would be needed to overcome the filibuster.