WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is expected to name federal appeals court Judge Amy Coney Barrett of Indiana as his nominee to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, multiple Republican and conservative sources told USA TODAY Friday.
While Barrett, 48, had been the front-runner for the nomination all along, other potential candidates on the president’s short list included Barbara Lagoa, a federal appeals court judge from Florida. Trump interviewed Barrett at the White House on Monday.
Democrats have denounced Barrett as an ideologue who wants to end abortion rights and promote corporate interests, while Republicans have hailed her as a model of judicial restraint who already has the votes needed for a quick confirmation.
Trump is planning the official announcement of his Supreme Court pick at 5 p.m. EDT on Saturday.
Returning from a campaign trip to Florida and Georgia Friday, Trump said he has made a decision “in my own mind,” but he didn’t say who will get the nod. “You’re going to find out tomorrow,” Trump told reporters. Asked specifically about Barrett, Trump replied: “I haven’t said it was her, but she is outstanding.”
The decision to move forward with the nominee has been decried by the president’s critics. They point to Ginsburg’s reported dying wish that her replacement not be picked by Trump and argue that with the election just weeks away, the decision should wait on the will of the voters.
Meeting at the White House:Trump meets with Supreme Court frontrunner Amy Coney Barrett
They also have accused Republicans of hypocrisy for blocking then-President Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland in 2016 on the grounds that the election, which was nearly nine months away when Associate Justice Antonin Scalia died, was too close.
Despite the political firestorm over the high court’s future, Trump and the Republicans are pushing to have the new nominee confirmed by Election Day on Nov. 3 – in part so that a full nine-member court, with a conservative majority, can rule on lawsuits arising from Trump’s bid for re-election.
Barrett’s confirmation would give Republican appointees a 6-3 advantage on the nation’s highest court, perhaps locking in conservative dominance for decades over issues like abortion, civil rights, health care, police powers, free speech and government regulations in general.
Even though Trump is not planning his official announcement of Coney Barrett until Saturday, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, praised her on Twitter Friday as a “legal trailblazer” who believes in interpreting the “law & Constitution as-written, operating free from political pressure.”
“The Senate will begin a thorough review of Judge Barrett’s nomination, a process that shouldn’t be rushed,” Cornyn said. “Despite previous attacks based on her religious faith, I hope Democrats choose not to engage in another character assassination, as they did against Justice (Brett) Kavanaugh.”
Trump’s search for a new Supreme Court justice began immediately after Ginsburg’s death on Sept. 18 and has been inextricably linked to the ongoing presidential election campaign.
This week, Trump said he wanted a ninth member of the court to help rule on election challenges. Democrat lawmakers said he is only looking for a Trump-friendly court to hand him the election over Democrat Joe Biden.
Trump “urged the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice to hand him an election if the results are contested,” tweeted Julian Castro, a former Democratic presidential candidate. “This is fascism, alive and well in the Republican Party.”
Trump has been clear he may challenge the results if he loses to Biden, and his campaign is already involved in lawsuits against mail-in ballots.
In the Supreme Court term that ended in July, Republican appointees held a 5-4 advantage, though Trump and others questioned just how conservative the court was under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts.
Trump has criticized Roberts for occasionally siding with liberal justices, including Ginsburg, to forge 5-4 majorities. Roberts has veered from conservative orthodoxy on abortion, immigration, LGBTQ rights and most notably on President Barack Obama’s health care law, the Affordable Care Act.
On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to nominate more conservative justices, and Barrett’s expected appointment is a fulfillment of that pledge.
The Indiana jurist became prominent in legal circles while a law professor at Notre Dame University. An opponent of what she calls judicial activism, Barrett is praised by conservatives for her criticisms of the Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision, her support of gun rights, and her legal criticisms of the health care law.
In 2017, Trump nominated Barrett for a position on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. During confirmation hearings, some critics said Barrett’s Catholic faith might be influencing her views on legal issues like abortion. “The dogma lives loudly within you,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Supporters of Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination are already accusing Democrats of targeting her faith.
“The attack on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Christian faith is an attack on every follower of Christ,” said former press secretary Sarah Sanders. “Christians need to wake up – there’s a battle going on, and it’s time to pick a side, because our faith and freedom and everything we love about America depends on us winning it.”
Democrats said Barrett’s views are the issue, and that Trump wants her on the court to issue pro-corporate rulings, strike down abortion rights, and protect him in case of an election dispute.
Amy Coney Barrett:5 things you need to know about Trump’s likely Supreme Court pick
Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, noted that Trump “has repeatedly said his Supreme Court nominees would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.” Now, she said, a new nominee “could be the deciding vote on cases involving women’s health and access to abortion.”
Biden noted that a major health care case is pending before the Supreme Court.
“In the middle of a global pandemic, President Trump is trying to get the U.S. Supreme Court to eliminate Obamacare and rip health care protections away from 100 million Americans with preexisting conditions,” Biden tweeted Friday. “Don’t forget that.”
Trump considered nominating Barrett to the Supreme Court in 2018 after the retirement of Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy. The president instead went with federal appeals court Judge Brett Kavanaugh, and aides said he was saving Barrett for a future high court opening.
In addition to Lagoa, other candidates Trump had considered included Allison Rushing, an federal appeals court judge from North Carolina; Kate Todd, who works in the White House counsel’s office; and Joan Larsen, a federal appeals court judge from Michigan.
Senate Republicans said they have the votes to confirm whomever Trump nominates, despite warnings from Democrats that a rushed confirmation will invite retaliation should they win control of the Senate in the November elections.
The threats range from ending filibuster rights – making it nearly impossible for a Republican minority to block legislation – to increasing the number of seats on the Supreme Court to restore ideological balance.
The political tensions behind the sudden Supreme Court vacancy surfaced when Trump traveled Thursday to pay his respects to Ginsburg. People booed the president and first lady Melania Trump as they stood in silence near the casket, perched atop the courthouse steps.
“Honor her wish!,” some protesters chanted, a reference to reports that Ginsburg’s dying wish was that the winner of the presidential election nominate her successor.
At rallies earlier in the week, Trump supporters chanted “Fill That Seat!” But at the Supreme Court, opponents chanted, “Vote Him Out!”
Contributing: William Cummings