What to make of Susan Collins’ meeting with Kavanaugh

Good morning from Augusta. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine met on Tuesday with President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. Though she emerged without a decision on whether she’d back him, she seems to be signaling that she will.

The decision from the moderate Republican will come amid intense pressure from liberals, who fear that Kavanaugh will tilt the high court far enough toward conservatives to endanger abortion rights. Collins, who is pro-abortion rights, is one of two Republicans who are undecided.

After Collins met with Kavanaugh for two hours, she said in a statement that he told her that he believes the landmark case granting abortion rights is settled law, though there’s some question as to what that means in practice. Collins also called their meeting “productive.”

When is settled law … unsettled? Collins is discussing Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision from the Supreme Court that legalized abortion across the country. Though Kavanaugh has praised a conservative justice’s dissent in that case, Collins said in a statement that he told her the ruling is entitled to respect under the judicial principle of “stare decisis” — or the doctrine of precedent.

That was quickly derided on the left. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, told reporters on Tuesday that it would be “settled law until they unsettle it” and that Kavanaugh didn’t answer him in a meeting when he asked whether the case was correctly decided.

To state the obvious, Roe is settled law now, though the Supreme Court can do what it wants. A Cornell Law School reference notes that while precedent is seldom overruled, past decisions can be deemed unworkable or societal changes can prompt it to be overruled. That latter phenomenon is why the U.S. has anti-discrimination laws, for example.

If Collins voted for Kavanaugh and he was the deciding vote against Roe, she would be open to criticism that she had been duped, since Trump said during his 2016 campaign that he would appoint justices who would overturn it. But former President Ronald Reagan wanted the same thing and he appointed Sandra Day O’Connor to the court. She voted to uphold it.

Collins has never opposed a nominee for the high court during her tenure, but she won’t make a decision until September. The Maine senator has been deferential to presidents on Supreme Court picks, backing the five justices who have come up for votes in her two-decade tenure in the Senate. She was undecided for nearly two months before she backed Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was nominated by Trump in February and confirmed in April.

We’ve seen this play out before. We saw Collins fuel speculation that she may run for governor for months before she decided not to in 2017. Every word she utters will be parsed heavily, but she hasn’t said anything yet to tell us that she wouldn’t oppose Kavanaugh. She said on Tuesday that no formal decision will come until after his confirmation hearings in September.

Controversial anti-tax crusader dies

Carol Palesky, who died this month at 78, was a Tea Party-like figure before that movement existed, but a criminal record dragged down her tax-cut bids. Palesky was one of Maine politics’ most colorful figures during a period between 1995 and 2005, serving as a sort of precursor to the Tea Party movement that hit a peak in the 2010 elections.

The grandmother and activist from Topsham tried three times to pass huge tax cuts at the ballot box. One in 1996 got her convicted of forgery and sent to prison. She was also a convicted embezzler who was once charged with bank robbery and found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Palesky finally shepherded a proposal to the 2004 statewide ballot that would have capped property taxes at 1 percent of a home’s assessed value. She told the Associated Press then that she was inspired by a man in line at the town office who said his taxes were too high for him to afford medication for a sick wife.

Though she was largely seen as sincere, Palesky lost big at the ballot after municipalities screamed about the massive cuts they would be forced to make. In Cape Elizabeth alone, leaders said they would have to cut $4.6 million from school and local budgets.

Palesky died at 78 in Freeport earlier this month. She is survived by Jacob, her husband of 42 years, two children and four grandchildren.

Reading list

  • Two Maine men with autism each spent more than a month in emergency rooms because the care they needed was not available elsewhere. Kyle Roderick and Robbie Faloon weren’t injured or physically ill, but the local hospital emergency room was the only place for them to go. Both men were living in separate group homes for adults with intellectual disabilities. But due to their tendency to act aggressively and violently, it became dangerous for housemates and group home staffers to be around them. Their plight illustrate the challenges that families and hospitals face in trying to find appropriate care and living situations for adults with autism in Maine.
  • An independent board created to oversee services to Maine people with intellectual disabilities has only a third of the members it should under state law. The volunteer Maine Developmental Services Oversight and Advisory Board oversees the state’s developmental services system, which provides services to about 6,000 adults with intellectual disabilities and autism. Those adults, under state and federal laws, are generally entitled to state-funded services that allow them to remain in their communities. Gov. Paul LePage hasn’t made any appointments to the board since January 2016, and he has either ignored or rejected the last two slates of nominations the board sent to his office, according to the panel’s annual report released earlier this month.
  • The president’s former lawyer cut a deal to plead guilty for his involvement in paying hush money to a porn star and former Playboy model during the 2016 campaign. In a plea bargain reached with federal prosecutors and filed Tuesday, Michael Cohen, who served as Trump’s attorney and “fixer,” pleaded guilty to eight counts, including tax evasion and making a false statement to a financial institution. He did not name Trump or Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal —  the two women he’s accused of paying to keep quiet about alleged affairs with Trump before he became president,–  and could get about four to five years in prison.
  • The federal investigation into Trump campaign shenanigans yielded its first jury-backed convictions on Tuesday. A jury in federal court found Paul Manafort, the longtime political operative who for months led Trump’s presidential campaign, guilty of eight financial crimes A judge declared a mistrial on 10 other counts the jury could not agree on. The jury returned the decision after deliberating four days on the charges of tax evasion and bank fraud The outcome almost certainly guarantees years of prison for Manafort and established the ability of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team to persuade a jury of average citizens despite months of partisan attacks — including from Trump — on the investigation’s integrity.

Pay it forward

Editor’s note: We have asked readers to share their thoughts on Chris Cousins, our colleague who died last week. Here is a remembrance from someone who knew him well:

Chris’ obituary mentions how the editor of the Advertiser Democrat in Norway hired him in 1999, even though she didn’t have any job openings, because he impressed her so much. Well, I can add a bit more to that story because Chris’ path and my path intersected repeatedly over the past two decades, up to and including the day before he died.

Back in 1999, I had left the Capital Weekly newspaper in Augusta to become city editor of The Times Record in Brunswick. When then-Times Record managing editor Jim McCarthy and I hired Chris away from the Advertiser Democrat that same year, we knew we had struck gold.

From his clips to his job interview to his reference checks, we knew right away Chris was the real deal: a diligent journalist determined to provide readers with the facts they needed to make informed decisions in their lives.

At The Times Record, Chris showed his hunger and enthusiasm for journalism, both hard news and feature stories, from Day 1. He ran the paper’s Bath bureau. His beat included Bath Iron Works. He did a superb job on everything he wrote about. He covered every nuance of the 55-day shipbuilders’ strike in 2000.

Two years later, in 2002, after announcing I was leaving The Times Record to work in communications for the Maine State Employees Association, SEIU Local 1989, a job I still hold, Chris approached me and shared that his dad, Tim, was serving as an MSEA-SEIU steward through his job as a vocational trades instructor for the Maine Department of Corrections. Over the next few years in my new job, I got to know Tim Cousins and his love of music, particularly the band Tower of Power, a passion he passed onto Chris.

I also stayed connected with Chris via his stepmother, Beth, who also was an MSEA-SEIU steward through her career in state service. More recently, I worked with Beth for the 12 years she served on the union’s staff as finance administrator. My union family and I grieved with both Chris and Beth over Tim’s death from cancer in 2007. We celebrated the birth of Chris’ and Jennifer’s children.

In more recent years, as the State House bureau chief for the BDN, Chris often wrote about budgetary and legislative issues affecting state workers, public services and the union. He did so without bias, yet with a keen understanding of the role of labor in everyday life. In fact, the week he died, he emailed me at the union not once but twice looking for information for a story he was working on. The first one came at 1:34 p.m. Monday, Aug. 13.

“Hi Tom, Does the union keep trend data about how many state employees there are? Is anyone, such as Mary Anne (Turowski), available to discuss how LePage has shifted jobs/cut employees/left positions unfilled? I am interested in doing a story about how the state workforce has changed under this governor.

Thanks, Chris”

We got back to him at 2:03 p.m.: We’re checking into it.

His next email landed at 10:20 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 14.

“Thanks, Tom. Any luck?”

We’re still working on it, I responded.

That was my last communication with him.

Chris death has created a giant void not just in Maine’s newshole but also in my life at every single level, as former journalist, unionist, newspaper reader, and human being. I remember talking with him a year or so ago about my love of foraging in the Maine woods. He said he’d like to do that sometime. I deeply regret not helping to make it happen. Last weekend, as I headed into the woods, I did so thinking of him and his family.

It’s up to all of us, in our own respective ways, to pay it forward in Chris’ memory. Meantime, here’s my soundtrack. — Tom Farkas, spokesman for the Maine State Employees’ Association

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com or rlong@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.