Winning the Democratic opposition, Senate Republicans confirmed Amy Coney Barrett in the Supreme Court by 52 votes to 48 along party lines, securing President Donald Trump’s candidate a week before the presidential election and what is likely to be a conservative majority in court in the United States. next years.
Trump’s choice to fill the vacancy of the late liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg potentially opens up a new era of abortion decisions, the Affordable Care Act and even a potential dispute over his own election.
Monday’s vote is the confirmation of the highest court closest to a presidential election, and the first in modern times without the support of the minority party.
Just over an hour after the Senate vote, on the south lawn of the White House, Barrett took the oath – the first of two – in front of Judge Clarence Thomas, while Trump watched. After the ceremony, the president and Barrett appeared on the White House porch with Trump applauding his choice, the third after conservatives Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
“The Barrett family has captured the heart of America,” said Trump. “It is highly appropriate that Judge Barrett occupies the chair of a true pioneer for women, Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”
Bader Ginsburg has devoted much of his career to advancing women’s rights with far-reaching judgments and disagreements about gender equality, reproductive rights and immigration issues.
Barrett is 48 years old and his writings against abortion and a decision on “Obamacare” show a deeply conservative thinker.
The court’s president, John Roberts, will preside over his separate judicial oath in court on Tuesday, the court said in a statement.
“This is something to be proud of and feel good about,” said Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell during a rare weekend session on Sunday before the vote. He scoffed at critics’ “apocalyptic” warnings that the judiciary was becoming mired in party politics and declared that “they won’t be able to do much about it for long”.
Pence’s presence presiding over the vote was expected, showing the Republican priority. But Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and his leadership team said that this would not only violate the virus guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “it would also be a violation of common decency and courtesy.”
Some Republican senators tested positive for coronavirus after an event at Rose Garden with Trump to announce Barrett’s appointment last month, but they have since said they have been released by their quarantine doctors. Pence’s office said the vice president tested negative for the virus on Monday.
Democrats argued for weeks that the vote was being improperly hasty and insisted during an all-night session that it would be up to the November 3 election winner to nominate the candidate. However, Barrett, a judge at the Indiana federal appeals court, is expected to take his seat quickly and start hearing cases.
Speaking close to midnight, Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, called the vote “illegitimate” and “the last breath of a desperate party”.
Several pre-election issues await decision just a week before the election, and Barrett could be a decisive vote in Republican appeals for orders that extend the deadline for absentee votes in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
Judges are also evaluating Trump’s emergency request that the court prevent the Manhattan district attorney from obtaining his tax returns. And on November 10, the court is expected to hear Trump’s upheld challenge to the Obama era Affordable Care Act.
‘It’s not Amy’s law’
Trump said he wanted to quickly install a ninth judge to settle electoral disputes and is hopeful that the judges will end the health care law known as “Obamacare”.
At his confirmation hearings before the US Senate, Barrett introduced himself as a neutral arbiter and suggested, “It is not Amy’s law.”
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, praised the mother of seven as a model – “a conservative woman who embraces her faith.”
Republicans focused on their Catholicism, reviving previous Democratic questions about their beliefs. Graham said Barrett is “blatantly pro-life, but she is not going to apply ‘Amy’s law’ to all of us.”
At the start of Trump’s presidency, McConnell devised a change in Senate rules to allow confirmation by a majority of the 100 senators, instead of the 60 vote limit traditionally needed to advance nominees to the upper court over objections. That was an escalation of a change in the rules that Democrats put in place to advance other administrative and judicial nominees under President Barack Obama.
Republicans are taking a political plunge by pushing for days of confirmation after the November 3 election, with the presidency and a majority in the Senate at stake.
Bill Schneider, professor of public policy at George Washington University, said the unprecedented rush has increased polarization and is likely to encourage more Democrats to vote.
“We are at the height of the election season and the Democrats are furious,” he told Al Jazeera.
‘It’s not fair, consistent’
Only one Republican, Senator Susan Collins, who is in a fight for close re-election in Maine, is expected to vote against the nominee, and not against any direct assessment of Barrett. Instead, Collins said, “I don’t think it’s fair or consistent to have a Senate confirmation vote before the election.”
Trump and his Republican allies hoped for a campaign boost, just as Trump generated enthusiasm among conservatives and evangelical Christians in 2016 because of a seat in the court. That year, McConnell refused to allow the Senate to consider the choice of then President Barack Obama to replace the late judge Antonin Scalia, arguing that the new president should decide.
Most other Republicans facing difficult contests have embraced the nominee to reinforce their position with conservatives. Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican candidate for reelection in North Carolina, said in a speech on Monday that Barrett “will go down in history as one of the great judges”.
But it is not clear whether the extraordinary effort to install the new justice on such opposition in a heated election year will bring political rewards for the Republican Party.
Demonstrations for and against the nominee were quieter on Capitol Hill under coronavirus restrictions.
Democrats are united against Barrett. Although two senators voted to confirm Barrett in 2017, after Trump appointed the professor at Notre Dame Law School, none are expected to do so now.
In a display of party priorities, California Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic presidential candidate, is due to return to Washington from the campaign to join colleagues without a vote.
No other Supreme Court judge has been confirmed in a registered vote without the support of the minority party in at least 150 years, according to information from the Senate History Office.