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Susan Collins Is Already Laying the Groundwork for Another Supreme Court Confirmation Betrayal

Susan Collins speaks during a Senate hearing.

It’s only been a few days since Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer announced his plans to retire, and the narrative around President Joe Biden’s nomination to replace him is already a complete mess.

Biden has not yet named a nominee, but he seems set on following through with a campaign promise to add the first Black woman to the court—something a ton of Republican lawmakers are predictably in a panic over.

Over the weekend, Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker derisively suggested Biden’s SCOTUS nominee would be an unqualified affirmative action pick designed to fill a “quota.” That’s both a fundamentally outdated understanding of what affirmative action is and just inaccurate.

As Rewire News Group’s Imani Gandy put it during an appearance on MSNBC, by choosing a Black woman as his nominee, Biden “is not narrowing the pool of candidates, he’s actually widening the pool of candidates because the pool of candidates has traditionally been white men.”

Until relatively recently, “it was essentially a prerequisite that you be a white man before you could be nominated to the Supreme Court.”

As Gandy and others have pointed out, Biden’s promise to nominate someone from a certain demographic is also nothing new. Ronald Reagan pledged to nominate the first woman to the Supreme Court, which he did. Before nominating Amy Coney Barrett, Trump promised to name a woman to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg. So how is Biden’s promise to nominate a Black woman any different? It’s not, of course, but Republicans are finding ways to move those goalposts.

In their efforts to stonewall Biden’s presidency in any and all ways possible, it is extremely likely that Republicans will band together to refuse to vote to confirm his nominee, no matter who it is, and no matter how qualified, simply on principle. That means Democrats will need every single one of their own party’s votes, and Kamala Harris as the tie-breaker. But with Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin acting as the party’s petulant wild cards, it would be nice (and perhaps necessary) to have a couple of Republicans on board.

Susan Collins of Maine is supposed to be one of those more “reasonable” Republicans. Back during Brett Kavanaugh’s SCOTUS confirmation hearing, she presented herself as being swayable. Kavanaugh was so blatantly unqualified for the position, and it was obvious that his nomination was a direct attack on Roe v. Wade, and Collins pretended to consider not giving him her vote before ultimately caving and doing the thing we expected all along.

For anyone thinking that this time, maybe Susan Collins might not pull the football out from under us for once, she is already laying the groundwork to disappoint.

Speaking on ABC’s The Week, Collins basically pulled the old “I love diversity, just not this diversity” bit.

“I would welcome the appointment of a Black female to the court,” she said Sunday. “I believe that diversity benefits the Supreme Court. But the way that the president has handled this nomination has been clumsy at best. It adds to the further perception that the court is a political institution like Congress, when it is not supposed to be.”

Absolutely no one actually believes that the Supreme Court isn’t a political institution, and the nomination process is definitely political. Was it apolitical when Mitch McConnell refused to acknowledge Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland? Or when Donald Trump specifically said he would only nominate people who he believed would overturn Roe v. Wade?

Collins insisted that Biden’s pledge to nominate a Black woman was somehow different from Reagan’s and Trump’s promises to elect women.

“I’ve looked at what was done in both cases, and what President Biden did was, as a candidate, make this pledge. And that helped politicize the entire nomination process,” Collins said. “But what President Reagan said is, as one of his Supreme Court justices, he would like to appoint a woman, and he appointed a highly qualified one in Sandra Day O’Connor.”

And there it is. Once again, the assumption creeps in that a Black woman—any Black woman—would not also be qualified to serve on the Supreme Court.

No matter what, this SCOTUS nomination/confirmation process is going to be terrible. At least Susan Collins has let us know nice and early just how foolish it would be to give her the benefit of any sort of doubt this time around.

(image: Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.