September 7, 2018

Dear Sen. Collins

I started my voting life as a New Hampshire resident, and, after nearly a lifetime’s absence living and practicing law in Boston, I have returned to my home state.  So I am not one of your constituents except to the extent that what you do in the Senate reaches far beyond the State of Maine.

I did meet you, just one time, when I came over to the dinner table at your husband Tom’s 50th reunion. He and I are college classmates.

I am writing this letter on day four of the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. I had intended to write to you and Sen. Murkowski jointly, but her website discourages non-Alaskans from writing to her, which seems unfortunate to me. It is no secret that much of America is watching you and her as the Kavanaugh nomination process moves forward. That group includes two op-ed writers in today’s N.Y. Times, Princeton Prof. Sean Wilentz and Paul Krugman, and Rachel Maddow, who devoted her program last night to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, this nomination will fail.

It should, and I urge you to help bring that about. I know that you met with the nominee and spoke favorably of him, but each day we see proof that he is not the right person for the Supreme Court. You need only have watched Sen. Kamala Harris’s questions about whether he did or did not discuss the Mueller investigation with a lawyer at the Kasowitz law firm, which represents Trump.

Would anyone, watching Kavanaugh squirm and equivocate, want such a person on the Supreme Court? And, when, 24 hours later, he finally said “No,” the next question should have been, “Well, with whom did you talk about the Mueller investigation?” And the question after that should have been, “What is a federal D.C. Circuit judge doing talking with anyone about the Mueller investigation?” And the question after that should have been, “And if you have talked with people about the Mueller investigation, why are you unwilling to do so here?”

When I was a young lawyer, I wrote to my then-senator, Norris Cotton of New Hampshire, urging him not to vote for Judge Carswell, whom Nixon had nominated for the Court. Sen. Cotton, a family friend, wrote back to me, saying that Carswell would not have been his choice, but he believed a president had discretion to choose whom he wanted.

I disagree with that view, and I trust you do as well. When you look at the nomination process over the last 40 years, it is clear that responsible senators have developed a different approach to their “advice and consent” obligations. No United States Senator should “defer” to a president, much less serve as a rubber stamp. We expect our senators to exercise their own independent judgment. Such idealism may sound quaint in these times, but I trust you share it.

You have spoken publicly about your commitment to a woman’s right to choose, and much of the current debate centers on whether this judge would vote to overrule Roe v. Wade  I don’t know whether he would, although I think the answer is yes. But that should not be the only question on your mind as you consider this momentous vote.

Two others come to mind. One is protection of First Amendment freedoms. We know how Trump regards the right of free speech. He would limit it to those who agree with him. Look at his revocation of John Brennan’s security clearance as just one example. And now he doesn’t just want the Times to identify who wrote the “insider” editorial. His tweet says that person should be “turned over” to the government. Those are frightening words.

The other, probably the most chilling aspect of this entire process, is the subject of executive power. Kavanaugh now speaks positively about the Nixon Tapes case, but we know that he wrote an article in which he expressed doubts as to whether that decision — that the president is not above the law — was correctly decided. You should take little comfort in his statement to you that Roe v Wade is “settled law,” which also contradicts what he wrote in one of the documents released this week.

Judge Kavanaugh is, without doubt, a very smart person who can reel off the minutest details about Supreme Court cases. That does not qualify him to become a Justice of the Supreme Court. Even with the refusal of the Executive to turn over relevant documents, we know enough about his career as a federal official and as a judge to make an informed decision. You are one of the 100 people who will do so.

Such a grave responsibility should never be a matter of giving someone the “benefit of the doubt.” If you have doubt, as I hope you do, that in itself should lead you to do what Sen. McCain did when he signaled “thumbs down” on the bill to repeal Obamacare. You were with him then, and I urge you to be with the American people now.

Please share this email with Sen. Murkowski and with any other colleague who you believe remains open-minded on whether Judge Kavanaugh should be confirmed.

Thank you.

Joseph D. Steinfield
Keene, New Hampshire