WASHINGTON, D.C., June 28, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — As pro-lifers enthusiastically anticipate President Donald Trump’s impending appointment of a new Supreme Court justice, questions have emerged about the Senate’s two pro-abortion Republicans backing a pro-life jurist.
Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement Wednesday, setting the political world ablaze with excitement from conservatives and fearful outrage from liberals. President Donald Trump announced that he would “immediately” begin the search for a successor, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised that the Senate would vote on his choice this fall, presumably ahead of November’s already-contentious midterm elections.
The intensity of both sides’ reactions stems from speculation that Trump’s nominee could give the Supreme Court its first clear pro-life majority, leading to the long-awaited overturning of Roe v. Wade. But the Senate’s most liberal Republicans have already signaled that their “yes” vote is not guaranteed.
“I view Roe v. Wade as being settled law. It’s clearly precedent and I always look for judges who respect precedent,” Sen. Susan Collins of Maine told reporters. As to whether the nominee’s abortion position would be a potential deal-breaker, she said “that obviously would be my preference, but what I'm most looking for is a Justice that will follow the law and the Constitution.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who also supports abortion, issued a statement hailing Kennedy for “h[olding] the court together and d[oing] right by the Constitution,” suggesting that she would like his replacement to rule similarly. “It is my longstanding practice to carefully scrutinize the qualifications of judicial nominees and to cast an independent vote.”
With Sen. John McCain’s absence from the Senate giving Republicans a razor-thin margin of 50-49, Democrats are placing their hopes in Collins and Murkowski, NBC News reports. Vice President Mike Pence could still break the tie with just one defection, but two would be enough to torpedo the nomination.
McCain has been absent from the Senate all year while undergoing brain cancer treatment, but has so far kept his seat, preventing Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey from appointing a replacement to vote in his place until the 2020 election. Alabama Democrat Doug Jones’ special election victory in December also narrowed the GOP majority that confirmed Gorsuch.
So far, Collins and Murkowski have voted for Trump’s judicial nominees, including Justice Neil Gorsuch, despite their pro-abortion stance. But while pro-lifers hope that trend will continue, the variables at stake leave it an open question.
Despite espousing a generally-conservative legal philosophy, Gorsuch did not have a record of previous rulings on abortion cases, and he testified during his confirmation hearings that Roe’s status as precedent would have to be considered in evaluating whether to overturn it.
Moreover, Gorsuch was replacing the pro-life Justice Antonin Scalia, meaning another anti-Roe vote would have merely preserved the court’s ideological status quo. But the next nominee is likely to shift the balance of power, which may change their incentives.
Others have expressed concern that Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona might derail the nomination, because he has previously threatened to block all of Trump’s lower nominees until the Senate votes on the administration’s trade policy. However, Flake confirmed Wednesday he will not extend that protest to a Supreme Court pick.
On the other side of the aisle, Andrew Prokop at the left-wing Vox notes that Democrat Sens. Joe Manchin, Joe Donnelly, and Heidi Heitkamp all crossed party lines to confirm Gorsuch, and all three face re-election this fall in deep red states. At the same time, the nomination’s greater stakes will intensify pressure on them to vote in accordance with their party.