The announcement of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a stalwart conservative on the federal bench, as President Trump’s third Supreme Court nominee on Saturday spurred the first blows of a partisan battle to come in Maine and across the nation.

Maine’s liberal leaders on Saturday night decried Barrett as a threat to women’s reproductive rights and the Affordable Care Act, while conservatives hailed her as a constitutional originalist hewing to what she believes the nation’s founders originally intended.

Sara Gideon, speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, worked to turn the nomination against U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, her opponent in a close race this November, accusing Collins of enabling “Trump and (Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell’s attacks on an independent judiciary and our basic rights.”

“Like most Mainers and Americans, I believe the Supreme Court vacancy should be filled by the new President and the Senate,” Gideon said in a statement Saturday. “But just like they’ve done over the past four years, Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump are again working to reshape the judiciary with a distinct political agenda by pushing forward a nominee against the will of the American people.”

Collins reiterated her stance on the nomination in a statement Saturday, saying the Senate should hew to the standard established by McConnell in 2016, when he declined for nearly a year to consider then-President Barack Obama’s nominee.

“In the interest of both fairness to the American people and consistency in following the practice established four years ago, there should not be a vote on a Supreme Court nominee prior to the election,” Collins said. “As I stated even before Justice Ginsburg’s death, should a nominee for the Supreme Court be brought to the Senate floor before the election, I will vote no.”

Collins’ statement did not address the senator’s views on Barrett herself.

A longtime law professor at the University of Notre Dame, Barrett clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and was confirmed as a federal judge in 2017. Barrett is a devout Catholic, and her faith and stance toward abortion were the subject of bitter controversy during that confirmation process. Women’s reproductive rights groups now fear that Barrett’s appointment to the nation’s highest court could threaten Roe v. Wade, the ruling enshrining women’s right to an abortion.

The Maine Democratic Party sought to tie Collins to Barrett on Saturday, noting that Collins had already voted to confirm Barrett to her current position on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, covering districts in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. Collins made that vote in 2017 over the opposition of 17 reproductive rights, health, and justice organizations, the party said in a statement.

“Senator Collins voted to put our rights on the line when she voted to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Seventh Circuit and put her in position to be elevated all the way to the Supreme Court,” Maine Democratic Party Chairwoman Kathleen Marra said in a statement. “Make no mistake: our health care and our rights are at risk because of Trump’s takeover of the judiciary with extreme right wing judges. And Senator Collins has been with Trump every step of the way.”

Collins spokeswoman Annie Clark responded to that criticism Saturday night.

“In their rush to politicize the nomination process, the Maine Democratic Party apparently failed to realize that their own 2016 Vice Presidential candidate also voted to confirm Judge Barrett in 2017,” Clark said in a statement. “I doubt they will make the same attacks against Senator Tim Kaine.”

The Maine Republican Party’s reaction was more muted on Saturday night. The party was silent on social media and on its website for the first few hours after the announcement. Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, said the party planned to address Barrett’s nomination in coming days, but would not do so Saturday night.

Dale Crafts, a Republican challenging U.S. Rep. Jared Golden in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, praised Barrett and said President Trump wouldn’t be fulfilling his oath of office if he didn’t make the nomination.

“From what I understand, Amy Barrett is a Constitution originalist,” Crafts, an outspoken supporter of Trump, said in a statement Saturday evening. “She views the Constitution as it was originally intended, not an organic, changing document, which is a quality I fully support. In order for our country to get back to our American values, we need to have a bench that will weigh in on the constitutionality of the very issues we are facing everyday.”

Crafts added: “I am for freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to keep and bear arms, law and order, and the American way. I believe Amy Barrett has the qualification, record and recommendations to make an outstanding Judge on the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Golden, a Democrat in the tightly contested swing district, has called for the Senate to wait on the nomination until after the election.

“Voters should have a voice in this decision, and whoever wins this election should go ahead and fill that vacancy,” Golden said in an interview Friday, referring to the precedent set by Senate Republicans in 2016, one that he said they should continue to follow.

Maine Senate Republican leader Dana Dow on Saturday night said he wasn’t familiar with Barrett, so he couldn’t discuss her qualifications. But he affirmed McConnell’s decision to advance Trump’s nomination, despite what transpired in 2016.

“If the shoe was on the other foot they’d be doing it too,” Dana said in an interview, referring to Democrats. “It’s just a power struggle. So no matter what side it’s on, they’d be doing the same thing.”

Barrett’s nomination comes before the burial of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who lay in state at the U.S. Capitol on Friday – the first woman in history to do so.

Before she died, Ginsburg said her “most fervent wish” was to be replaced by the next president. If confirmed along with Trump’s prior picks, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, the 48-year-old Barrett is expected to swing the court firmly to the right, perhaps for a generation.

U.S. Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, pledged to vote against the nomination and called the speed with which Republicans are advancing Barrett “a stain on this institution,” referring to the Senate. He warned that, if confirmed and seated quickly, Barrett could help decide an upcoming case on the Affordable Care Act, imperiling the program’s survival.

The case King referred to, California v. Texas, is an ongoing multistate lawsuit from Republican attorneys general seeking to strike down the entire Affordable Care Act based on the elimination of the individual insurance mandate in the Republican tax law of 2017. An earlier Supreme Court decision upheld the ACA based on the argument that the mandate’s penalty for the noninsured was a constitutionally appropriate tax imposed by Congress. That penalty is no longer in place.

“I worry this expedited timeline is nothing more than a power play in an attempt to seat the new Justice before the Supreme Court hears a case that could strike down the Affordable Care Act,” King said in a statement Saturday evening. “Let me say that again: this could mean the complete demise of the Affordable Care Act. If they are successful, millions of Americans will be left without health insurance or protections against preexisting conditions.”

Gideon also sounded the alarm about the ACA’s future, saying the suit “threatens to overturn the Affordable Care Act just days after the election,” putting at stake access to health care and protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

Ginsburg’s death, on Sept. 18, immediately launched a fierce political battle over whether the Senate should allow Trump to replace her before the November election.

In early 2016, the last time a Supreme Court seat came open during a presidential election year, McConnell refused to consider then-President Obama’s nominee for 11 months, saying the American people should decide the future of the court through the presidential election. This time, McConnell says he will fill the seat.

Collins, who is running a close re-election contest under pressure from her key vote for Justice Kavanaugh in 2017, announced this fall that she believed the Senate should not vote on a nominee before the election. Her comments drew fire from Trump; still, she later confirmed explicitly that she would vote against any nominee before Nov. 3.

But a number of other potential swing voters in the Republican Senate majority, including Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, said they would vote on a nominee.

News of Trump’s pick spread during the week as the White House notified Republican lawmakers.

Announcing Barrett’s nomination in the White House Rose Garden late Saturday afternoon, President Trump praised her “towering intellect” and “sterling credentials” as an acolyte of the late Antonin Scalia, the conservative justice whose seat McConnell held open four years ago.

“You are very eminently qualified for this job,” Trump said to Barrett. “You are going to be fantastic.”

Speaking after Trump, Barrett noted that flags were still running half-staff for Ginsburg, who began her career, she said, “at a time when women were not welcome in the legal profession.”

“Should I be confirmed, I will be mindful of the person who came before me,” Barrett said.

Addressing the American people, Barrett added later that, “If confirmed, I would not assume that role (of a Supreme Court Justice) for the sake of those in my own circle, and certainly not for my own sake. I would assume that role to serve you.”

According to a schedule circulating among Republican lawmakers, confirmation hearings could begin as soon as Oct. 12.


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