WASHINGTON – Judge Amy Coney Barrett is poised become the ninth justice on the Supreme Court on Monday, solidifying a 6-3 conservative majority on the high court that Democrats warn could have lasting impacts on the nation’s health care and rights for individuals.
The Republican-led Senate is expected to confirm her to the Supreme Court in a vote Monday evening, capping off a sprint to place Barrett on the high court before Election Day over Democratic objections.
Barrett, an appeals court judge touted by religious conservatives, needs a majority of the votes in the Senate to be confirmed, a likely outcome in a body where Republicans outnumber Democrats 53-47. There is little Democrats can do to halt the final vote as only one Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine, said she would vote against Barrett, though liberals have spent days using procedural maneuvers to slow the process and force votes on contentious issues.
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Over the weekend, senators debated Barrett’s nomination with Democrats noting what is at stake with Barrett’s appointment, notably the future of the nation’s health care under the Affordable Care Act, and Republicans highlighting her career and her qualifications to serve on the nation’s highest court.
“The Senate is doing the right thing. We’re moving this nomination forward and colleagues, by tomorrow night we’ll have a new member of the United States Supreme Court,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said during a lengthy speech on the Senate floor Sunday afternoon.
McConnell, who called Barrett one of the “most qualified nominees for judicial service that we have seen in our lifetimes,” noted that while Democrats might be able to roll back Republican policy achievements in the years to come, Barrett’s expected confirmation to the high court could not be undone.
“We’ve made an important contribution to the future of this country. A lot of what we’ve done over the last four years will be undone sooner or later by the next election,” he said. “They won’t be able to do much about this for a long time to come.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Sunday railed against Republicans for pushing forward on Barrett’s nomination, calling it an unjust “power grab.” He criticized McConnell for moving Barrett through the chamber just days before the election after halting President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland about 8 months before the 2016 election.
“In order to justify an outrageous power grab that even some members of his party don’t agree with, the leader’s argument boils down to ‘but you started it!’” Schumer said. “Any parent with young children would recognize that argument. It’s when you know you’ve done something wrong, but you don’t want the blame.”
McConnell has repeatedly pointed to a rules change done by Democrats in 2013 that eliminated the 60-vote threshold required to passing certain judicial appointments. McConnell, using that precedent, broadened that change to include Supreme Court nominees in 2017 – a change that has allowed Republicans to pass nominees, likely including Barrett, in largely party-line votes.
The Senate voted 51-48 on Sunday to limit debate and end a Democratic filibuster. That means the chamber will likely vote to confirm Barrett sometime after 7:30 p.m. EDT Monday following 30 hours of debate. The vote to end debate fell along mostly party lines with Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., not voting.
Senate Democrats gave floor speeches overnight Sunday into Monday opposing Barrett’s confirmation.
The fight over filling Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s spot on the court started only hours after the liberal icon died Sept. 18. President Donald Trump and McConnell were left with the opportunity to appoint another conservative justice to the court just weeks before a contentious election that could put the White House and Senate in Democrats’ hands.
Before Barrett was named Trump’s nominee in late September, Democrats urged Trump and Republicans to wait on replacing Ginsburg, saying the winners of the Nov. 3 election should determine which justice will get a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court. Democrats repeatedly pointed out that Senate Republicans would be going back on their word if they held a confirmation vote so close to an election, citing their 2016 refusal to consider Obama’s nomination of Garland.
Despite Democratic opposition – which included concerns over holding a confirmation process amid the COVID-19 pandemic – Republicans pushed forward. Barrett quickly started meeting with senators, confirmation hearings were scheduled and Senate Republicans charted out a path to confirm Barrett before Election Day.
Barrett’s four days of confirmation hearings passed without much of the drama Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s proceedings had. Most senators announced their intention to support or oppose Barrett’s nomination, or that of any nominee, by the end of September, taking much of the suspense out of the process.
Recognizing they did not have the votes to block Barrett’s nomination or significantly delay the process, Senate Democrats opted to highlight what they said would be the consequences of her confirmation to the Supreme Court, peppering her with questions during her confirmation hearings about her views on abortion, the Affordable Care Act, and other controversial issues. The judge, however, largely declined to answer the questions, saying she would not comment on issues that could come before the court.
When the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversaw her vetting process, took its vote to send her nomination to the full Senate, Democrats boycotted the vote and instead placed pictures of people on their chairs who they said could be affected by the overturning of the Affordable Care Act.
Democrats repeatedly called the Judiciary Committee proceedings “illegitimate” and a “sham,” though Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, faced criticism from progressives for her praise of the proceedings.
Barrett is likely to be sworn in soon and could take part in contentious Supreme Court cases on the Affordable Care Act or election-related disputes that could arise.
Barrett is required to take two oaths before she can officially serve on the high court and she could take these in a variety of ways. Typically, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will swear in a new associate justice and a ceremonial service is held at the White House.
The last addition to the Supreme Court – Kavanaugh – was sworn in by Roberts just hours after the Senate confirmed his nomination. Since the high court was in the middle of its term, the quick process allowed Kavanaugh to begin work immediately.
The same could happen with Barrett as the court has a busy schedule in the days ahead.
The court will be in session starting Nov. 2 and will hear a case concerning the LGBTQ community and religious freedoms, along with a highly anticipated case that could decide the future of the Affordable Care Act.