Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to the Supreme Court late Monday by a deeply divided Senate, with Republicans overpowering Democrats to install President Donald Trump’s nominee days before the election and secure a likely conservative court majority for years to come.
Trump’s choice to fill the vacancy of the late liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg potentially opens a new era of rulings on abortion, the Affordable Care Act and even his own election. Democrats were unable to stop the outcome, Trump’s third justice on the court, as Republicans race to reshape the judiciary.
Barrett is 48, and her lifetime appointment as the 115th justice will solidify the court’s rightward tilt.
“This is a momentous day for America,” Trump said at a primetime swearing-in event on the South Lawn at the White House.
Justice Clarence Thomas administered the Constitutional Oath to Barrett before a crowd of about 200. Barrett will be able to participate in the court after taking the judicial oath administered by Chief Justice John Roberts in a private ceremony at the court Tuesday.
Barrett told those gathered that she learned through the “rigorous confirmation” that “it is the job of a judge to resist her policy preferences.” She vowed, “I will do my job without any fear or favor.”
Monday’s vote was the closest high court confirmation ever to a presidential election and the first in modern times with no support from the minority party. The spiking COVID-19 crisis has hung over the proceedings. Vice President Mike Pence’s office said Monday he would not preside at the Senate session unless his tie-breaking vote was needed after Democrats asked him to stay away when his aides tested positive for COVID-19. The vote was 52-48, and Pence’s vote was not necessary.
“Voting to confirm this nominee should make every single senator proud,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, fending off “outlandish” criticism in a lengthy speech. During a rare weekend session, he declared that Barrett’s opponents “won’t be able to do much about this for a long time to come.”
Pence’s presence presiding for the vote would have been expected, showcasing the Republican priority. But Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and his leadership team said it would not only violate virus guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “it would also be a violation of common decency and courtesy.”
Underscoring the political divide during the pandemic, the Republican senators, most wearing masks, sat in their seats as is a tradition for landmark votes, and applauded the outcome, with fist-bumps. Democratic senators were not present, heeding Schumer’s advice not to linger in the chamber. Some GOP senators tested positive for the coronavirus following a Rose Garden event with Trump to announce Barrett’s nomination last month, but have since returned from quarantine.
Democrats argued for weeks that the vote was being improperly rushed and insisted during an all-night Sunday session it should be up to the winner of the Nov. 3 election to name the nominee. However, Barrett, a federal appeals court judge from Indiana, is expected to be seated swiftly, and begin hearing cases.
Speaking near midnight Sunday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., called the vote “illegitimate” and “the last gasp of a desperate party.”
Several matters are awaiting decision just a week before Election Day, and Barrett could be a decisive vote in Republican appeals of orders extending the deadlines for absentee ballots in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
The justices also are weighing Trump’s emergency plea for the court to prevent the Manhattan District Attorney from acquiring his tax returns. And on Nov. 10, the court is expected to hear the Trump-backed challenge to the Obama-era Affordable Care Act. Just before the Senate vote began, the court sided with Republicans in refusing to extend the deadline for absentee ballots in Wisconsin.
Trump has said he wanted to swiftly install a ninth justice to resolve election disputes and is hopeful the justices will end the health law known as “Obamacare.”
During several days of public testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Barrett was careful not to disclose how she would rule on any such cases.
She presented herself as a neutral arbiter and suggested, “It’s not the law of Amy.” But her writings against abortion and a ruling on “Obamacare” show a deeply conservative thinker.
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