The future of abortion, voting rights and LGBT protections in the United States are just a few of the dozens of issues that depend on the selection of one person, which will in turn depend on the votes of a handful of centrist senators.
In vetting the next Supreme Court justice, those powerful centrists will want to avoid further politicizing the judiciary by opposing an accomplished nominee. Yet they should also seek to prevent a rightward lurch on the court that would usher in a new era of conservative judicial activism. Now is the time for them to apply their leverage.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, one of the crucial votes, began to do so over the past week, consulting with President Donald Trump and saying Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that she “would not support a nominee who demonstrated hostility to Roe v. Wade.” That takes a few potential nominees off the table.
Collins also urged the president to expand his list of possible picks beyond the one that conservative activist groups handed him during his 2016 campaign. That means considering more independent-minded people.
Collins voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first pick for the high court. She will have to be more exacting as she considers a replacement for Justice Anthony Kennedy than she was in judging the replacement for arch-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
As for the centrist Democratic senators, they are under intense pressure to oppose anyone Trump puts up. Democrats are understandably angry after Republicans refused to consider Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s eminently reasonable pick to replace Scalia.
Senators do not have to ignore recent history. Rather, they should judge the individual whom Trump chooses with more stringent standards than would have been previously warranted.
If the centrists stick together, they can force the selection of a reasonable, mainstream judge in the mold of Kennedy or Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.