Talking Points

Susan Collins was astoundingly wrong about Brett Kavanaugh

It turns out that Susan Collins was wrong. Again.

Collins, the Republican senator from Maine, has long cultivated an image as one of her party's moderates, particularly on the issue of abortion. But in 2018 she cast a critical vote for conservative Brett Kavanaugh to replace moderate swing vote Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court — and did so despite opposition from pro-choice activists. Kavanaugh recognized the court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling as a long-established precedent, Collins said. "Protecting this right [to abortion] is important to me," she told the Senate. She defended her support the next year, even after Kavanaugh voted to let a Louisiana anti-abortion law take effect.

Collins' belief in Kavanaugh was implausible in 2018. It's less plausible now. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court allowed a new Texas law — one that bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy — to go into effect. Later this year, justices will hear a direct challenge to Roe in a case from Mississippi. Abortion rights in the United States have rarely seemed more fragile than at the present moment.

"This is a de facto overturning of Roe before the Supreme Court has time to hear the Mississippi case," Planned Parenthood President Alexis McGill Johnson said of the court's silence in the Texas case.

If the court does indeed overturn Roe — or finds a way to gut the ruling without exactly striking down the precedent — Kavanaugh won't do it by himself. There are five other conservative justices on the nine-member court, including Amy Coney Barrett. But Kavanaugh's elevation to the court will rightly be judged as a key moment in shifting the court's ideological balance on abortion and other issues. And Collins will have enabled that shift, in spite of her professed values.

At this point, Collins doesn't have the greatest track record in judging people. She voted against convicting Donald Trump during his first impeachment, famously saying Trump had learned "a pretty big lesson" from the affair. He hadn't, and Collins ended up voting for conviction at his second impeachment trial. Kavanaugh, however, has a lifetime appointment to the bench. Susan Collins won't get a do-over this time.