The nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy moved toward the final vote today, after a divided Senate voted in favor of cloture – a technical term for a procedure that limits debate on Kavanaugh’s nomination by creating a 30-hour window within which the Senate will hold a final vote on the nomination. The final vote will likely occur sometime tomorrow afternoon, but Kavanaugh appears to have locked up the votes needed for confirmation: This afternoon, Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, announced that she would support Kavanaugh, as did Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia.
Republicans needed 51 votes to move ahead with tomorrow’s vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination, and that is exactly what they got. Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, voted against cloture this morning, while Collins and Manchin (along with Senator Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona) voted for it. Collins had announced before this morning’s vote that she would vote in favor of cloture but would not announce her decision on the final vote until this afternoon, while Manchin – who is up for re-election in a state that President Donald Trump won by over 40 percentage points in 2016 – did not comment on his cloture vote.
After the cloture vote, Murkowski described her decision to oppose Kavanaugh as the “most difficult” one that she’d ever had to make. “It just may be, in my view, he’s not the right man for the court at this time.”
Flake, who is retiring from the Senate this year, had announced earlier today that he planned to support Kavanaugh “unless something big changes,” but he added that he did not expect such a change.
Collins came to the floor shortly after 3 p.m. today. She was sharply critical of what she described as the “dysfunctional” confirmation process and efforts by liberal interest groups to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination, often funded by “dark money.” “One can only hope that the Kavanaugh nomination is where the confirmation process has finally hit rock bottom,” she seemed to plead. She has interpreted the Constitution, she explained, as giving the president broad discretion to nominate Supreme Court justices. She has “never considered” the president’s identity or party when evaluating Supreme Court nominees, she noted, and has supported nominees advanced by both Republican and Democratic presidents. She stressed that she had reviewed Kavanaugh’s record on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, listened to his confirmation testimony and spoken with him personally at length.
Addressing President Donald Trump’s promise to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, Collins noted that overturning Roe has been in the Republican Party’s platform for years, but Republican presidents have appointed justices like Sandra Day O’Connor, Anthony Kennedy and David Souter – who voted in 1992 to reaffirm Roe’s core holding. She went on to state that Kavanaugh had not made any promises about whether he would vote to overturn Roe.
Collins stressed that she had listened “carefully” to Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, which Collins believed was “sincere, painful and compelling.” Collins added that she believed Ford had been assaulted and was still suffering from the effects of that assault. But witnesses could not corroborate any of the events of the party where Ford said the assault occurred, Collins continued, and both Kavanaugh and Mark Judge, whom Ford placed in the room during the assault, “forcefully denied” the allegations. Ford’s claims, Collins concluded, did not meet a standard of “more likely than not,” and Collins therefore did not regard them as disqualifying.
After over 45 minutes on the Senate floor, Collins ended by describing Kavanaugh as an “exemplary” public servant, teacher, judge, father and husband. She expressed hope that Kavanaugh would work to reduce divisions on the Supreme Court and then confirmed what had become clear by that point: She will vote tomorrow to confirm Kavanaugh.
Collins’ announcement gave Manchin some breathing room: Even if he had voted against Kavanaugh, creating a tie, Vice President Mike Pence could have broken that tie in Kavanaugh’s favor. But shortly after Collins finished on the floor, Manchin announced that he too would support Kavanaugh, rendering it all but certain that Kavanaugh will be confirmed sometime tomorrow by a vote of 51 to 49.
This post was also published on SCOTUSblog.