Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is joined by other members of the "common sense coalition," from left, Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, discuss the bipartisan immigration deal they reached during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s planned retirement will give President Joe Biden and the Democratic-led Senate their first chance to shape the court with Maine’s senators playing different roles in the process than they did under former President Donald Trump.

Democrats need to simply rally their senators, including Angus King, I-Maine, who caucuses with the party, to push the nominee through with the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris. They will eye potential swing votes from a few Republicans including Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who has voted for all but one high-court pick put before her during her tenure.

The stakes are not as high with this nomination as the three made by Trump, a Republican who installed a 6-3 conservative majority. The 83-year-old Breyer is a liberal justice nominated by former President Bill Clinton, leaving Biden to fill a seat already in his ideological sphere.

Collins and fellow Republicans pushed through a 2017 rule change used in the Trump era to confirm Supreme Court justices by a simple majority, bypassing the 60-vote filibuster reserved for legislation after King and Democrats did so for lower-court justices in 2013. Democrats are now poised to install Breyer’s replacement mostly along party lines.

The 2018 fight over Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual misconduct during his confirmation process and denied the allegations, was the most divisive of the Trump era. Collins’ vote for Kavanaugh led to a wave of Democratic organizing against the Maine senator resulting in a record-shattering $200 million race in 2020 that the incumbent won.

Near the end of that election cycle, Collins broke with her party to oppose Trump’s nomination of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, saying Republicans should not have advanced a nominee toward the end of an election cycle after denying a confirmation hearing to Merrick Garland, who was President Barack Obama’s final high-court nominee in 2016 and is now attorney general. Barrett was still confirmed by Republicans despite Collins’ holdout.

King has been a reliable vote for Democrats in nomination fights. He voted against Trump’s high-court picks and has broken only sparingly with the current president in the past year. The most notable one came last year over David Chipman, who was Biden’s pick to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives but was opposed by gun-rights groups.


Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...