WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh told Sen. Susan Collins on Tuesday that Roe v. Wade was “settled law,” the Maine Republican told reporters after their meeting.
Collins, a supporter of abortion rights, said she raised the issue with Kavanaugh, who is meeting with senators ahead of his confirmation hearings next month.
“We talked about whether he considered Roe to be settled law,” Collins said, referring to the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.
Collins said Kavanaugh told her that he agreed with Chief Justice John Roberts, who said during his 2005 confirmation hearing that Roe was “settled as a precedent of the court.” Collins and Kavanaugh, who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, met for more than two hours Tuesday morning.
“He said that he agreed with what Justice Roberts said at his nomination hearing, in which he said it was settled law,” Collins said. “We had a very good, thorough discussion.”
The senator has not said whether she will support Kavanaugh, but she has also declined to offer strong criticism of President Donald Trump’s nominee. With Republicans holding a slim 51-to-49 Senate majority, support from Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, would ensure Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Democrats, led by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the more important question is whether Kavanaugh believes Roe was decided correctly.
“This is not as simple as Judge Kavanaugh saying that Roe is settled law,” said Schumer, who met with Kavanaugh for an hour on Tuesday afternoon.
If confirmed, the judge “could become the swing vote on issue after issue, becoming a wrecking ball against key health protections for millions of American women,” Schumer said, adding: “We need to hear more than blase comments that it’s settled law.”
There are several signs that Collins will vote to confirm Kavanaugh, a conservative stalwart with deep ties to the Republican establishment, to succeed retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. The four-term senator has never opposed a Supreme Court nominee, and she voted in favor of Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the D.C. Circuit in 2006. Collins and Murkowski also voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s previous Supreme Court nominee.
Murkowski is expected to meet with Kavanaugh later this month.
Schumer and Kavanaugh have tangled before on the issue of abortion, a topic likely to shape the discussion at Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings starting Sept. 4.
During Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the D.C. circuit in 2006, Schumer asked for his view on Roe v. Wade. Kavanaugh declined to give his personal opinion of the ruling but said he would follow Roe “faithfully and fully” if confirmed.
Kavanaugh does not have a large body of writing on abortion jurisprudence. In Garza v. Hargan last fall, he dissented from an opinion allowing an undocumented teenager to temporarily leave government custody to obtain an abortion, arguing to delay the procedure until she was released to a sponsor.
The dissent raised concerns among some abortion rights opponents who considered it too lenient.
Collins, who said she will not announce her decision until after the hearings, has said that she would oppose a nominee who “demonstrates hostility” to Roe v. Wade. She has also said that Kavanaugh’s position on abortion will not be the only factor in her decision.
Kavanaugh, 53, met with Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.; Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and he planned to sit down with Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., in addition to Collins and Schumer. The nominee declined to answer reporters’ questions as he walked between the offices.
Absent from Collins’ account of their meeting was mention of a newly released memo from 1998 in which, as a lawyer in the office of independent counsel Kenneth Starr, Kavanaugh proposed asking President Bill Clinton sexually explicit questions about his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky.
The memo, first reported by The Washington Post, revealed Kavanaugh’s support at the time for an aggressive approach by the independent counsel. He said later that his views shifted, arguing presidents are too busy to be subject to investigations of that kind while in office.
Kavanaugh’s views on the matter are seen as crucial given that he might rule as a Supreme Court justice on the limits of Trump’s power and the investigation into Russian election interference led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Collins said she and Kavanaugh discussed his views on executive power, the Garza case and District of Columbia v. Heller, a landmark Supreme Court ruling on gun rights. She did not go into further detail on those topics.
Welcoming Kavanaugh before a gaggle of reporters, Collins said she had consulted “literally 19 attorneys” to develop questions for their conversation.
The meeting lasted for roughly two hours and 15 minutes, longer than any other between Kavanaugh and a senator since his nomination last month.
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