The Death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg Again Puts Susan Collins Center Stage in the Judiciary Wars

The Big Story: In the wake of the loss of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Susan Collins stated that whoever is elected president in November should choose the nominee to fill her seat. While many progressives cheered the announcement, is her position as iron-clad as it sounds? Some are doubtful.

Less than two hours after the announcement of Ginsburg’s death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed to bring Donald Trump’s nominee to a vote in the Senate. McConnell, who blocked a vote on President Obama’s nominee to fill the seat left vacant upon the death of Antonin Scalia ten months before the 2016 election on the pretext that voters should have a voice, now wants the incumbent president to fill a seat just weeks before a presidential election. It will require four Republican senators to oppose McConnell to stop the nomination. 

On Friday, Susan Collins said that “in fairness to the American people, who will either be reelecting the President or selecting a new one, the decision on a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court should be made by the President who is elected on November 3.” Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), just hours before GInsburg’s death, expressed a similar view when addressing a then-hypothetical vacancy.  

But Collins added she had no objection to Trump making a nomination or allowing the Senate Judiciary Committee to vet his nominee, widely expected to be Amy Coney Barrett, a fierce opponent of women’s reproductive rights. That response raised several questions about Collins’ announcement, among them: Did McConnell agree to let Collins take her stand to help her re-election prospects and because he believes he can limit the number of defectors to just two or three senators? Equally troubling, would Collins stick to her promise if the vote comes in a lame duck session after the election if both she and Trump are defeated?

Many people are skeptical of Collins’s announcement, given her long record of bending to pressure from McConnell. Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman, tweeted: “A statement to get her through Election Day. Don’t for a second believe she will stick to it if McConnell needs her to be the deciding vote in December.”

Collins’s votes for Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh have already tilted the Court well to the right, and opens the way now for an eight-member Court to hear a case on November 10, in which the Trump administration is seeking to have the Affordable Care Act declared unconstitutional in its entirety. If the court divides 4-4, a lower court decision declaring Obamacare unconstitutional would stand, ending health coverage for millions of Americans and with it protections in the law for those with pre-existing conditions. (The Boston Globe, September 19, 2020) (Politico, September 19, 2020) (The Huffington Post, September 19, 2020).

In other news: 

While Susan Collins has been coy about whether she supports Donald Trump’s re-election, she has been with him when it matters most, on the floor of the United States Senate.”Collins, who has for a quarter-century positioned herself as an independent-minded Republican with a moderate streak, has, since the 45th president assumed office in 2017, made herself his essential ally in the Senate,” writes John Nichols in The Nation. “To a far greater extent than Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell from Kentucky, or Senate Judiciary Committee chair Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, it is Collins who has risked her reputation and her political position to protect and serve Trump.” (The Nation, September 18, 2020.