Collins’s past assertions came into sharp relief Wednesday as Kavanaugh joined four of his fellow conservatives on the court in declining to block one of the country’s most restrictive abortion laws, a Texas statute that bans the procedure as early as six weeks into pregnancy with no exception for rape or incest. The court’s action stands as the most serious threat to the landmark ruling establishing a woman’s right to abortion in nearly 50 years.
Collins’s support for Kavanaugh — and her insistence that he would uphold Roe — was crucial in installing then-President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court as the Senate confirmed him by one of the narrowest margins in history, a near party-line 50-to-48 vote.
His decision late Wednesday night revives questions of whether Collins was misled by the nominee or whether she was intent on supporting him no matter his views on abortion rights. Collins’s full-throated endorsement of Kavanaugh and her swing vote means she will always be associated with this Supreme Court justice, winning praise from conservatives and widespread criticism from liberals.
In a statement Thursday afternoon, Collins called the Texas law “extreme and harmful.” She made no specific mention of Kavanaugh but noted that of the six Supreme Court justices she has voted to confirm, three voted with the majority on the Texas ban, while three voted with the minority.
“The Supreme Court recognized that there are ‘serious questions’ regarding the constitutionality of the Texas law, and it emphasized that its recent ruling does not address those questions,” Collins said. “I oppose the Court’s decision to allow the law to remain in effect for now while these underlying constitutional and procedural questions are litigated.”
Abortion providers say the Texas ban — which relies on private citizens to sue people who help women obtain abortions prohibited under the law — effectively eliminates the guarantee in Roe v. Wade and subsequent Supreme Court decisions that women have a right to end their pregnancies before viability, and that states may not impose undue burdens on that decision. It was specifically designed to turn away pre-enforcement challenges in federal courts.
Marie Follayttar, director and co-founder of the Democratic-leaning group Mainers for Accountable Leadership, said that Collins’s actions “have led us to the point where our bodily autonomy and foundational rights are at risk and where pregnant Texans risk a gun toting bounty hunter coming after them and their families for having an abortion.”
“These are Susan Collins’s judges and therefore her legacy; she will forever be the U.S. Senator who deliberately misled a nation and her constituents in a 43-minute self-righteous Senate floor speech where she asserted that she believed Brett M. Kavanaugh’s commitment to settled law and condemned the advocacy of scared and committed constituents,” Follayttar said in a statement.
She added: “How can a Mainer ever believe anything she says again?”
After her two-hour meeting with Kavanaugh in August 2018, and in a host of interviews since then, Collins has maintained that Trump’s nominee for the court would not seek to restrict access to abortion.
“We talked about whether he considered Roe to be settled law,” Collins told reporters at the time. “He said that he agreed with what Justice Roberts said at his nomination hearing, in which he said that it was settled law.”
In Wednesday’s decision, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. sided with the court’s liberal justices to say he would have kept the Texas law from being implemented while its legality was weighed in court.
In her Senate floor speech announcing her support for Kavanaugh, Collins said he had “unequivocally assured me that he had not” made any commitments to the White House or any outside groups on how he would rule on cases related to abortion rights.
“As the judge asserted to me, a long-established precedent is not something to be trimmed, narrowed, discarded, or overlooked,” Collins said. “Its roots in the Constitution give the concept of stare decisis greater weight simply because a judge might want to on a whim. In short, his views on honoring precedent would preclude attempts to do by stealth that which one has committed not to do overtly.”
Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison ridiculed Collins on Thursday over her previous statements asserting that Kavanaugh would not vote to overturn Roe.
“I’m sure Collins is deeply concerned w/ the Court’s decision & will send a sternly written note to Kavanaugh!” Harrison tweeted. “Folks, need to wake the hell up from this bipartisanship fairytale if they see Collins as the gold standard for protecting rights & saving Democracy!”
Collins’s support for Kavanaugh became a major issue in her bid for reelection in 2020. Some abortion rights groups withdrew their support for Collins, and a major LGBTQ rights group, the Human Rights Campaign, endorsed her Democratic opponent, Maine’s then-House Speaker Sara Gideon, citing Collins’s vote to confirm Kavanaugh, as well as “her support of Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump’s agenda.”
Nonetheless, the senator successfully won reelection, taking 51 percent to Gideon’s 42.4 percent. Collins, 68, is not up for reelection until 2026.
Robert Barnes contributed to this report.