A spokeswoman for Sen. Susan Collins said Thursday that a recently released email from Brett Kavanaugh does not contradict previous statements by the Supreme Court nominee that he views Roe v. Wade as “settled law.”
Maine’s senior senator is coming under increasing pressure over Kavanaugh’s nomination – and not only as a result of the email revelation. More than 230 Maine lawyers who oppose the nomination sent a delegation to meet with her Thursday to press their concerns, and a national crowdfunding effort has generated more than $500,000 to fund the campaign of an opponent in 2020 if Collins votes to elevate Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
The 2003 email surfaced Thursday, the third day of contentious hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.
Abortion rights are a key issue for Collins, a moderate Republican in a closely divided Senate that will decide whether Kavanaugh is seated on the Supreme Court.
Progressive groups are attacking the 2003 Kavanaugh email, arguing it’s proof or a strong indication that he would likely vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. But Kavanaugh, in response to questions Thursday during his nomination hearing, said he was summarizing the points of other legal scholars.
Annie Clark, Collins’ spokeswoman, issued a statement saying the Kavanaugh email was editing a draft op-ed by another writer, and that “the email does not contradict Judge Kavanaugh’s statements that he believes Roe to be settled law and that he agrees it is important precedent.”
Kavanaugh worked as an attorney for President George W. Bush in the 2000s, and a portion of emails and documents from that time are becoming public, although the Trump administration is blocking more than 100,000 Kavanaugh emails from being released, citing executive privilege. Democrats are calling foul, with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York referring to the decision to block documents as having “all the makings of a cover-up.”
PRESSURED FROM BOTH SIDES
Collins is a rare pro-abortion rights Republican whose vote could be crucial to whether the Senate, where Republicans hold a 51-49 majority, will confirm Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, another moderate, pro-abortion rights Republican, also could potentially sink the nomination. Anti-abortion activists have praised Kavanaugh, and President Trump said during his campaign for the White House that he would choose Supreme Court nominees who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Collins, who remains undecided on Kavanaugh, has said that she would not vote for a nominee who “demonstrated hostility” toward Roe v. Wade. But she pointed out that after an Aug. 21 meeting with Kavanaugh in her office that the nominee had told her he considered Roe v. Wade “settled law.” Collins also has made several positive comments about Kavanaugh.
Maine Sen. Angus King also is undecided about Kavanaugh’s nomination. An independent who caucuses with the Democrats, King has criticized the Trump administration for blocking the release of documents detailing Kavanaugh’s legal opinions and record.
Kavanaugh’s email, which was marked “committee confidential” by Republicans who control the Senate Judiciary Committee, was leaked to The New York Times and The Associated Press on Wednesday. More than 400,000 Kavanaugh emails are being released, but many are marked “committee confidential,” meaning they are not supposed to be publicly released. Democrats on the judiciary committee are openly defying that order.
In the email, Kavanaugh wrote that “I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since Court can always overrule its precedent, and three current Justices on the Court would do so.” Kavanaugh, in 2003, was referring to conservative justices on the Supreme Court at the time. Currently, the Supreme Court is split 4-4 between conservatives and liberals.
DOES EMAIL CONTRADICT JUDGE’S POSITION?
The email does not indicate Kavanaugh’s personal views on whether Roe v. Wade should be overturned. Kavanaugh, responding to questions from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, on Thursday, said he was summarizing the opinions of other legal scholars.
“Roe v. Wade is an important precedent of the Supreme Court. It’s been reaffirmed many times,” Kavanaugh said on Thursday in response to questions.
Clark, Collins’ spokeswoman, said in a statement that the email was “editing a draft op-ed authored by someone else for accuracy.”
“Judge Kavanaugh stated two facts: not all legal scholars agree that Roe is settled law and three judges on the Court at the time were anti-Roe. As Judge Kavanaugh clarified at this morning’s hearing, he was not expressing his personal views,” Clark said. “The email does not contradict Judge Kavanaugh’s statements that he believes Roe to be settled law and that he agrees it is important precedent.”
But Nicole Clegg, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund, said in a statement that Kavanaugh’s 2003 email confirms he would be a “threat” to reproductive rights.
“Judge Kavanaugh’s emails directly contradict his testimony that Roe v. Wade is ‘settled law,’ and affirm what we have said before: Judge Kavanaugh is a threat to our personal liberties and constitutional rights, including the right to safe and legal abortion,” Clegg said. “If confirmed, Judge Kavanaugh would present nothing less than a hostile attack on our reproductive rights. He would be the fifth vote deciding the future of Roe v. Wade and access to safe, legal abortion in this country.”
MAINE ATTORNEYS LOBBY STATE’S SENATORS
The Kavanaugh nomination process is being used as a fundraising tool by a progressive group led by health care activist Ady Barkan. He is raising funds for a potential Collins’ opponent in 2020, but the donations would only be released to the opponent if Collins votes “yes” on Kavanaugh. The group had raised $528,000 as of Thursday.
Pro-abortion rights groups also point to other speeches or writings by Kavanaugh as signals that he would vote to overturn Roe or limit reproductive rights, such as a September 2017 speech to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. During the speech, Kavanaugh praised former Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who wrote the dissenting opinion in Roe v. Wade. Kavanaugh did not explicitly say that he favored dismantling Roe v. Wade in the speech, but he praised Rehnquist for being against “unenumerated rights” like abortion that were not “rooted in the nation’s history and tradition.”
Also during the hearing, Feinstein criticized Kavanaugh for referring to certain contraceptives as “abortion-inducing drugs.”
“Judge Kavanaugh just said Burwell v. Hobby Lobby was about “abortion-inducing drugs.” That’s a GROSS misunderstanding of the case, which was about insurance coverage for contraceptives. It’s further proof of Kavanaugh’s hostility toward women’s reproductive freedom,” Feinstein said in a tweet.
While Collins remains undecided, she has voted “yes” on Supreme Court nominees from Republican and Democratic administrations, including liberals Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan and conservatives John Roberts, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch. Collins was one of five Republicans, including former Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, to break ranks with the party and vote for Kagan in 2010. In 2016, Collins favored bringing former President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, to a vote, but Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to do so in Obama’s last year in office.
Meanwhile, a group of Maine attorneys went to Congress on Thursday to lobby Collins and King. Six attorneys traveled to Washington, representing the 230 who had signed a letter calling on Maine’s senators to oppose Kavanaugh.
Jackie Sartoris, an assistant district attorney in Kennebec County, told the Press Herald in a phone interview that while Collins said she was undecided, she was concerned that Collins was repeating Republican talking points about Kavanaugh. Sartoris said President Trump’s blocking of Kavanaugh’s emails should be enough to stop the nomination because senators will not have all of the information before them to make a decision.
“The process seems about getting to the end result and seems to be designed to hide facts about Judge Kavanaugh,” Sartoris said.
Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at: