U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine broke with fellow Republicans on Saturday to say the winner of the upcoming presidential election should appoint the next Supreme Court justice as leaders signaled they would move quickly to fill the vacancy left after the Friday death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Collins is the second senator of her party to indicate in the last few days the Senate should not confirm a justice before the election, though she did not say how she would vote if party leaders bring a nominee to the Senate floor anyway. Her announcement comes as she is in the most difficult re-election race of her career, trailing House Speaker Sara Gideon, a Democrat, by a few points in most polls this year.
Her statement matches earlier comments she made to the New York Times, which reported Friday night that she had said earlier this month that October was too close to the election to confirm a new justice.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said Friday night the Senate should vote on a justice appointed by President Donald Trump. If the Republican-led Senate confirmed another Trump pick to replace Ginsburg, one of the most liberal justices, it would further tilt the power of the court toward conservatives.
In 2016, when conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly in February, McConnell declined to hold hearings for Merrick Garland, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, citing that it was an election year. Democrats immediately highlighted those comments in the aftermath of Ginsburg’s death, saying it would be hypocritical for McConnell to push forward a new justice so close to the election.
At least four Republican senators would need to side with Democrats to block a justice in the next few months. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, indicated hours before Ginsburg’s death on Friday that she would oppose the confirmation of a new justice until after the election, making Collins the second Republican senator.
“In fairness to the American people, who will be either re-electing the President or selecting a new one, the decision on a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court should be made by the President who is elected on November 3rd,” Collins said in a statement Saturday afternoon.
It puts Collins at odds with her party. Trump said Saturday that he would announce a nominee soon. In a statement, Collins said she would support the Senate beginning to review the qualifications of a justice nominated by Trump, but that the body should not hold a vote prior to the election.
Gideon said in a statement Saturday shortly after Collins’ announcement that the vacancy should be filled by the next president and Senate, saying Mainers and Americans “should have their voices heard.”