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Go ahead, blame Susan Collins for last Friday’s Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade. But don’t stop there.
While Collins is a convenient, and valid, focus for anger over the decision that guts the right to an abortion, there are many decisions and actions that led us here.
Depending on how far back in history you want to go, you can blame the drafters of the Constitution for leaving women out of the document entirely. Not only did they not include the right to an abortion in the document (yes, pregnancies were ended back then), they didn’t even give women a right to vote.
More recently, blame Ronald Reagan for furthering culture wars and a new brand of Christian conservatism, and for elevating ideology over qualifications for his nomination of Robert Bork to serve on the Supreme Court. Bork’s nomination failed, laying the groundwork for today’s nasty battles over Supreme Court nominees.
Blame Reagan and George W. Bush for empowering religious conservatives, who became enmeshed with monied interests who funded efforts to remake all three branches of government to their liking.
Blame former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, for changing Senate rules in 2013 to allow executive and judicial nominees — but not the Supreme Court — to be confirmed by a simple majority vote.
Blame Mitch McConnell, a master tactician, for expanding that rule change to Supreme Court nominees, beginning an era of largely partisan votes on nominees to the high court.
Of course, McConnell deserves our ire for refusing to even hold a hearing on then President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill a vacancy on the court 11 months before the 2016 election (he then shepherded through Republican Donald Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barret in just 27 days just weeks before the 2020 election). But also blame Chuck Schumer, Obama and other Democrats for allowing McConnell to win this game. Yes their options were limited but Democrats have continued to allow Republicans to block much of their agenda even as they hold the White House and a majority in Congress, albeit a slim one.
Blame Donald Trump, who seems to have allegiance to no guiding philosophy other than his own self interest, for doing the bidding of far-right interest groups in his court nominations and other policies.
Many on the left will balk, but some blame also lies with former Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for not retiring during a Democratic presidency despite her declining health. Alternatively, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement was conveniently timed so that Donald Trump would have a stunning third nominee during his four years in office.
These and many other factors laid the groundwork for last week’s unprecedented decision.
So, too, did Collins’ votes for Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh (Collins voted against Trump’s third nominee, Justice Amy Coney Barrett). The BDN editorial board, which I oversee, argued that Collins shou ld have voted against Kavanaugh (yes, the board has also endorsed Collins in her runs for public office). She voted for him, unleashing a firestorm of criticism that continues to this day. Kavanaugh could have been confirmed without Collins’ vote and other Republican senators could have, and should have, opposed his nomination. At the same time, I realize that Trump was unlikely to nominate someone more moderate if Kavanaugh’s confirmation had failed.
Still, at best, Collins is worryingly naive in her explanation that Gorsuch and Kavanaugh misled her about their thoughts on Roe v. Wade before their confirmations. This doesn’t square with her seeking, and receiving, campaign contributions from members of the Federalist Society, a group that is committed to seating conservative, anti-abortion jurists on our federal courts and backed all three of Trump’s Supreme Court picks.
Two years after Collins voted to confirm Kavanaugh, securing a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, she faced her toughest reelection campaign of her Senate career. Despite her opponents and outside groups far outspending Collins and her supporters – and polls consistently showing Collins behind in the race – Collins was reelected by Maine voters in November 2020 to a fifth term by an unexpected 9-point margin.
So, blame Susan Collins for last week’s Supreme Court ruling. But understand that is only part of the story.