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How an Alaska Senator Could Make or Break Trump’s Supreme Court Plans

July 2, 2018, 10:55 AM UTC

With Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, President Trump will be given a second opportunity to nominate a new justice.

And while Democrats fear another conservative justice in general, one large area of focus will be on any nominee’s stance on abortion.

Republicans hold a 51-49 advantage in the Senate, meaning that they could theoretically approve a Trump nominee without any Democratic support. In order to block a nominee, then, Democrats will need to ensure that no one from the party defects and pick up at least one Republican vote (if Sen. John McCain is unable to participate in the vote; two if he does).

Democrats have their sights set on Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ala.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), in the hopes that they could sway one of their votes based on their support of abortion rights.

It now appears that the Democrats may have Sen. Collins—she said in a Sunday interview on ABC’s This Week that she could only vote for a judge that respects precedent.

“A candidate for this important position who would overturn Roe v. Wade would not be acceptable to me because that would indicate an activist agenda that I don’t want to see a judge have,” she explained. “And that would indicate to me a failure to respect precedent, a fundamental tenet of our judicial system.”

That means that Sen. Murkowski could have a lot of power in the upcoming vote. So far, Murkowski has stayed relatively mum on the topic, saying only that she would “carefully scrutinize the qualifications of judicial nominees” and would cast an “independent vote.”

Murkowski has largely proven to be a swing vote. On most issues, she votes in line with her party. But she is pro-choice and previously showed a willingness to go against the party, particularly in her vote against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act last year. Nevertheless, Murkowski did vote for Justice Gorsuch last year. It could really be anyone’s game.

Murkowski won’t necessarily be the only critical vote. Several Democratic senators, including Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), and Joe Donnelly (Ind.) also backed Gorsuch and are facing reelection in states that Trump won.

And if the votes result in a tie, Vice President Pence will hold the tie-breaking vote—and his anti-abortion stance is well-known.