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Opinion Susan Collins’s grand delusion

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has often gone against her party on the issue of abortion. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

With Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s retirement last week, the stage is set, for the first time, for the court to have five votes for overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision. Everyone following the nomination knows this. Everyone, apparently, except one U.S. senator: Susan Collins.

On both CNN’s “State of the Union” and ABC’s “This Week,” the Maine Republican displayed a remarkable naivete about the future of the court. After showing the pro-choice Collins a clip of President Trump saying abortion would be a “litmus test” for his nominees, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked, “Is it fair to expect that any nominee he selects will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade?” Collins replied, “Well, the president told me in our meeting that he would not ask that question. And that is what he has most recently said, on the advice of his attorney.” The senator repeated that sentiment on ABC, adding, “What I want to see is a nominee who, regardless of his or her personal views on the very difficult and contentious life issue, is going to respect precedent regardless.”

None of this passes the laugh test. “Respect precedent”? Last week five justices overturned four decades of precedent in labor law. Collins voted for three of them. And as for the president’s word, surely Collins knows that Trump’s word is worth approximately zero, especially when attorneys are involved. (Furthermore, the last time other Republicans prominently promised Collins something — to get her vote for the tax bill — they didn’t hold up their end of the bargain.)

Perhaps the most mind-boggling answer came when Tapper asked, “Don’t you think, just as an academic matter, Neil Gorsuch, for whom you voted, don’t you think he is probably going to vote to overturn Roe v. Wade if given the chance?”

“I actually don’t,” replied Collins. “I had a very long discussion with Justice Gorsuch in my office, and he pointed out to me that he is a co-author of a whole book on precedent.” Again, Collins said this less than a week after Gorsuch voted to overturn a decades-long precedent. Yet somehow she has persuaded herself he cares about precedent above all.

Collins is in her fourth term as senator. She knows how Washington works, and she surely knows that the Republican base will not tolerate a nominee who would not vote to overturn Roe. As with Gorsuch, the search for Trump’s next nominee is being led by Leonard Leo of the conservative Federalist Society. Whoever comes out will be less in the mold of Kennedy and more in the mold of Antonin Scalia.

So when Collins claims, “I would not support a nominee who demonstrated hostility to Roe v. Wade,” Democrats may hope that’s the case. Indeed, if Republicans can pick off a few red-state Democrats up for reelection, Collins may be free to vote against the nominee. But if it comes down to one vote, Collins’s words Sunday make clear that she will be able to convince herself to back Trump’s nominee.

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