A Republican senator who is likely to be a key vote in the fight to confirm a new Supreme Court judge has said that any nominee hostile to the landmark Roe v Wade abortion rights ruling would be “unacceptable”.
Susan Collins, a Maine senator, made clear that she sees the 1973 ruling as law, amid deep dismay from activists that a new more conservative judge on the court could put a number of women’s rights in peril.
President Donald Trump is set to nominate his second justice onto America’s highest court, following the announcement of conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement on Wednesday. Mr Trump had previously restored the nine-person court’s conservative majority with the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch last year.
“I believe very much that Roe v Wade is settled law… it has been established as a constitutional right for 45 years,” Ms Collins told ABC’s This Week.
“A candidate for this important position who would overturn Roe v Wade would not be acceptable to me as that would indicate an activist agenda that I don’t want to see a judge have,” she added.
During Mr Gorsuch’s confirmation, Ms Collins and Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski were the subject of intense scrutiny, both being staunch supporters of women’s rights. With the removal of the requirement for 60 votes in the 100-person Senate to confirm a Supreme Court nominee, it is fair to say that both Ms Collins and Ms Murkowski have essentially become the most important people in any vote.
Republicans had to remove that 60-vote threshold, so votes are now won by a simple majority, in order to get Mr Gorsuch passed. Democrats cried foul at the imposing of the so-called “nuclear” option – but even with that this time, Republicans have little room for manoeuvre.
Arizona Senator John McCain is away from Congress ill and there is a chance he may have to miss any vote, leaving the slimiest GOP majority of 50 to 49. If either of Ms Collins or Ms Murkowski were to withhold their support from any potential nominee, then Republican leadership would be relying on Democrats for support.
As a result, the focus has turned to Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. The three face re-election in November in states that Mr Trump won in the 2016 presidential election. All three also voted for Mr Gorsuch. They were the only Democrats to do so.
However, the current confirmation hearing and vote is likely to be even more fierce. Democrat leadership, including the party’s top person in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, has already started to paint the new choice as a the most important in a generation and said that any push for a judge looking to change established precent would be fought against.
With Justice Kennedy having acted as the court’s swing vote on a number of occasions and having supported the liberal faction in winning efforts on abortion and gay rights – activist groups are planning on multi-million dollar nationwide campaigns to try and ensure a more neutral judge is chosen.
Mr Trump has said that he plans to announce his nominee on 9 July and that he has narrowed his list of contenders to about five, including two women. He wants to move quickly ahead of the midterm elections in November, choosing from a 25-person list of contenders compiled for him by White House lawyers and conservative legal activists in Washington. Ms Collins suggested that there a number of names on that list she would not support.
Speaking to NBC’s Meet the Press Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he would not vote for a nominee who has made up their mind about specific cases, including Roe v Wade.
Perhaps aware of the controversy, Mr Trump said during an interview aired on Fox News on Sunday that he would not be asking any of the nominees about how they would vote on Roe v Wade.
“Well that is a big one, and probably not, ” Mr Trump said. “They are all saying ‘don’t do that, you don’t do that, you shouldn’t do that'”.
“But I am putting conservative people on,” the president added.