Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, one of just two Republican senators to publicly express support for abortion rights, has voted for dozens of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees who have signaled they are against abortion.
The veteran lawmaker has supported over 90% of Trump’s picks for federal judge positions, including 32 nominees who have indicated they oppose abortion rights, according to research compiled by NARAL Pro-Choice America and the Democratic political action committee American Bridge.
“Actions speak louder than words, and no amount of pro-choice rhetoric will change the fact that Senator Collins has voted to confirm over 30 anti-choice Trump judicial nominations,” Alex Stack, a spokesman for the Maine Democratic Party, said in a statement to HuffPost. “Any pro-choice credibility Senator Collins built up over the past two decades in Washington is officially gone.”
Annie Clark, a spokeswoman for Collins, said the Maine lawmaker evaluates judicial nominees based on a consistent set of criteria, including judicial temperament and respect for precedent, no matter who happens to be president.
“One factor she does not consider is the nominee’s personal beliefs, political or otherwise,” Clark said in a statement to HuffPost. “She does, however, evaluate whether a nominee can set aside these beliefs and rule fairly and impartially.”
She noted that Collins has supported over 90% of judges appointed by both Democratic and Republican presidents.
“While this approach might seem novel in today’s hyperpartisan climate, it used to be the norm,” Clark said. “By any normal yardstick, Senator Susan Collins is a pro-choice Republican.”
Though Trump repeatedly stated that he planned to nominate justices with the intention of overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that made abortion legal in all 50 states, Collins voted to confirm both of his nominees ― Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh ― to the Supreme Court.
She famously helped cinch Kavanaugh’s confirmation in October despite multiple sexual misconduct allegations against him from the 1980s. Her vote drew intense backlash from Democrats and women across the country.
In a speech explaining her vote, Collins said protecting abortion rights is important to her and that she believed Kavanaugh would not overturn Roe v. Wade.
“When I asked him, ‘Would it be sufficient to overturn a long-established precedent if five current justices believed it was wrongly decided,’ he emphatically said no,” Collins said from the Senate floor in October.
She said Kavanaugh had “unequivocally assured” her that he had not made any commitments to the White House or to any outside group on how he would decide cases.
Collins also voted for nine of Trump’s apparently anti-choice district court nominees. Kenneth Bell, who she voted to confirm as a U.S. district judge for the Western District of North Carolina last month, wrote an op-ed in 1995 that attacked what he called the “indefensibility of the abortion rights position.”
Michael Truncale, while running for Congress in 2012, boasted on his campaign website that he’s a supporter of “strong pro-life and pro-family values.” Collins voted to confirm him as a U.S. district judge for the Eastern District of Texas last month.
Collins also voted for 21 circuit court judge nominees whose past comments align with groups seeking to limit women’s reproductive rights, including Kurt Engelhardt as a U.S. circuit judge for the 5th Circuit. Engelhardt was a member of the Louisiana Lawyers for Life, an advocacy group that provides legal support to the state’s “pro-life movement.”
Collins “is clearly voting against the interest of Maine women,” said Marie Follayttar, co-director of the political action committee Mainers for Accountable Leadership.
“She may identify as pro-choice,” but her actions often undermine this position, Follayttar said, adding that Collins has failed to “push back against what she clearly knows is an agenda to place ‘pro-life’ justices.”
Collins’ support for Trump’s judicial picks is setting up a potentially contentious challenge to her likely 2020 reelection bid. A poll conducted by Critical Insights last month shows her approval rating in Maine has dipped 10% since her Kavanaugh vote in October.
Maine Democrats have raised millions of dollars toward a potential Democratic challenger to Collins in the wake of Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Still, the last three months of 2018 marked the biggest fundraising period of Collins’ 22-year career, bringing in $1.8 million.
“Sen. Collins has never faced an election like she’s about to face,” Ian Koski, a Democratic strategist in Maine, told HuffPost. “Mainers don’t like being lied to and [Collins] has done a masterful job for years of saying one thing and doing another.”
Kavanaugh’s confirmation has tilted the Supreme Court further to the right, emboldening anti-abortion rights activists and laying the foundation for a potential legal battle over Roe v. Wade.
Collins was generally considered one of three swing votes during Kavanaugh’s confirmation. The others were Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who has expressed support for abortion rights and who voted “present,” and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the only Democrat to vote in favor of Kavanaugh.
The Senate ultimately voted 50-48 to confirm him.
“It turns out [Collins’] actions have consequences,” Stack, the Maine Democratic Party spokesman, said in his statement. “Anti-choice interests throughout the country know that this is the best opportunity ever to overturn Roe v. Wade, despite Senator Collins telling Mainers the opposite.”
In recent months, Republican-controlled legislatures have passed a slew of anti-abortion laws in various states, including one in Alabama that imposes a near-total ban on the procedure.
Collins said last month that she’s “not sure exactly why we’re seeing this happen,” and called the Alabama law “extreme.”