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Donald Trump

Trump anti-abortion Supreme Court pick ‘not acceptable’, says Republican senator

Susan Collins says a woman’s right to have an abortion is ‘a fundamental tenet’ of the US judicial system

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 July, 2018, 4:37pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 July, 2018, 7:33pm

As battle lines are drawn for the coming fight over Donald Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee, a senator who could help to decide the fate of the nomination warned on Sunday that a justice who would seek to reverse federal abortion rights protections “would not be acceptable”.

“A candidate for this important position who would overturn Roe v Wade would not be acceptable to me because that would indicate an activist agenda that I don’t want to see a judge have,” Republican senator Susan Collins told ABC’s This Week, referring to the 1973 court decision protecting abortion rights.

Trump, however, said on Sunday the abortion issue could be returned to the states, suggesting that a future court could overturn the federal abortion rights protections created by Roe.

“We’ll see what happens but it could very well happen with the states at some point,” Trump told Fox Business, repeating a view he expressed soon after his election.

The president has said he will announce his pick to fill the seat of retiring justice Anthony Kennedy on July 9. He was due to begin interviewing candidates from an existing 25-strong list this weekend, from his Bedminster golf club in New Jersey.

Collins said Trump had told her personally he would not ask potential nominees about their position on Roe – the president told reporters the same on Friday, on Air Force One. But the intensive conservative vetting of potential nominees is such that an anti-abortion disposition is practically ensured.

Vice-President Mike Pence, an outspoken evangelical Christian, has called for Roe to be relegated to “the ash heap of history ”.

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“I would not support a nominee who demonstrated hostility to Roe v Wade,” Collins told CNN’s State of the Union, “because that would mean to me that their judicial philosophy would not include a respect for established decisions, for established law, and I believe that is a fundamental tenet of our judicial system. Roe v Wade is a constitutional right that is well established.”

Almost every Republican in the Senate, which will confirm the successful nominee, is expected to vote with Trump as a matter of course. But Collins has in the past bucked party and president, notably with her opposition in 2017 to Trump’s education secretary nominee, Betsy DeVos, and to attempts to repeal Barack Obama’s health care law.

Collins has also voted with the president, however, including in a crucial December 2017 vote in favour of a tax cuts package that ended the health care law’s individual mandate.

She voted for Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first Supreme Court pick. On Sunday she told CNN she did not believe Gorsuch would try to undermine Roe, because he wrote a book on judicial precedent.

“Someone who devotes that much time to writing a book on precedent, I think understands how important a principle that is in our judicial system,” Collins said.

Collins and fellow senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are the only two nominally Republican abortion rights advocates in the Senate. Both voted in favour of a 2003 legislative amendment to endorse Roe.

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In 2002, according to Talking Points Memo website, Collins said: “The Republican Party should be as synonymous with protecting a woman’s right to choose as the Democratic Party is with expanded government or raising taxes.”

The Republicans hold only a 51-49 majority in the Senate, meaning any defections over the Supreme Court nominee could be costly, especially as Senator John McCain, who is receiving treatment for cancer in his home state of Arizona, may not be on hand for the confirmation vote.

But Trump may not need every Republican if he can pick off some Democrats. Three senators – Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota – who voted for Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, met Trump on Thursday to talk about the new court vacancy.

All three are up for re-election in November in states where Trump won handily.