President Donald Trump announced September 26 that he will nominate federal appeals court Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, a choice that would lock a conservative majority on the high court and that could help turn out Republican voters in the election less than six weeks away. Judge Barrett would fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, preserving the court’s gender balance of three women and six men while potentially tipping its ideological balance for decades. President Trump introduced Barrett in a Rose Garden ceremony attended by conservative activists, a reminder that shifting the Supreme Court to the ideological right has been a decades-long focus for Republicans.
“Amy Coney Barrett will decide cases based on the text of the Constitution as written,” President Donald Trump said, as the nominee stood beside him. “As Amy has said, being a judge takes courage. You are not there to decide cases as you may prefer. You are there to do your duty and to follow the law, wherever it may take you.” President Trump and Judge Barrett praised Ginsburg as a trailblazer, and Barrett said she would do the job of a justice “mindful of who came before me.” Their views and backgrounds could not be more different, however, as the deeply conservative Barrett made clear with a tribute to the late Antonin Scalia, the conservative jurist for whom she was a law clerk and who she said was her legal role model. “I have no illusions that the road ahead of me will be easy, either for the short term or the long haul. I never imagined that I would find myself in this position, but now that I am, I assure you that I will meet the challenge with both humility and courage,” Barrett said, adding that she looked forward to meeting with senators.
Judge Amy Coney Barrett is expected to be confirmed swiftly by the Republican-majority Senate and could be seated before the Presidential election, the resolution of which President Donald Trump has predicted could end up before the Supreme Court. Democrats, with little chance of derailing the nomination, say they are being steamrolled. Some in the party are refusing to meet with Barrett, while liberal activists are pushing Democratic lawmakers for more drastic moves such as boycotting the confirmation hearings. Senate Republicans were preparing to accelerate the confirmation process as soon as the announcement was made, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) planning to meet with Barrett on September 29, according to an aide. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) confirmed in an interview with Fox News that the hearings for Barrett will begin October 12 with opening statements, with questions set to take place on October 13 and 14. There will be testimony from outside witnesses at some point, he said, and the committee process will begin October 15, meaning a panel vote on Barrett’s nomination could come as early as October 22 under Judiciary rules. “I expect they’re going to throw the kitchen sink at us,” Senate Majority Whip John Barrasso (R-WY), said in an interview. But he said he was confident Barrett would be confirmed before the election “if everything moves along smoothly.”
The prospect of conservative judges and a shift on the high court helped President Donald Trump, with few ideological lodestars, win over skeptical Republicans in 2016, and he has been unapologetic about using this surprise vacancy to further his chances for reelection. “Fill that seat” has been a featured chant at President Donald Trump’s political rallies over the past week, and his campaign is raising money with messages to supporters that tout the president’s Supreme Court pick. Republicans also started selling a T-shirt Saturday that appropriated Ginsburg’s pop-culture-inspired nickname, “Notorious RBG.” The shirts say “Notorious ACB.”
During the White House announcement, the election was not mentioned, nor was abortion, the issue on which many senators of both parties are likely to base their vote on Amy Coney Barrett. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden issued a statement on the nomination that focused on the Coronavirus and the Affordable Care Act’s future, which is back before the high court in the term that begins October 5. “She has a written track record of disagreeing with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision upholding the Affordable Care Act” in 2012, Biden said, noting that Barrett had also criticized Chief Justice John Roberts for his deciding vote in that case.
The 16 days from Amy Barrett’s nomination to the start of her confirmation hearings would be the shortest in recent memory. Since 1990, it has taken an average of 50 days from a Supreme Court pick’s nomination to the start of his or her confirmation hearings, significantly shortcutting the time available for Senators to examine Barrett’s record, read through her writings, and to prepare questions for the hearings. Republican leaders are aiming for a final confirmation vote just days before Election Day, a goal they say is feasible in part because Barrett’s record and background were already scrutinized during her bitter 2017 confirmation to the federal bench. Democrats cited Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s 2016 refusal to hold hearings for President Barack Obama’s last Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, on the theory that voters in that year’s presidential election should have their say first. Senator McConnell has since reversed his opinion to say that Trump’s confirmation pick should go forward before the election.
Amy Coney Barrett is already well known to Republican senators, many of whom had hoped Trump would pick her for the next vacancy. When President Donald Trump said he would consider only women to fill Ginsburg’s seat, Barrett became the automatic favorite. President Trump said he considered five women, but Barrett is the only one he is known to have interviewed in person. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made known to Trump his preference for Barrett, since his ranks were the most familiar with her. Although her writings on precedent and personal antiabortion views could be a significant obstacle for Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who support access to abortion, both have said they do not support holding a confirmation vote before the election anyway. That cleared the way for Trump and McConnell to push through the most conservative candidate possible. As he departed the White House for a Saturday night rally in Pennsylvania, Trump told reporters he did not discuss abortion with Barrett during their interview. “I never discussed that with Amy” and the court itself is “going to have to make that decision,” he said. At the rally, he said that “most important of all she will defend your God-given rights and freedoms.” People behind Trump wore MAGA hats and MAGA masks and held signs saying “Fill That Seat” and “Peaceful Protester.”