WASHINGTON – Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative appeals court judge and protégée of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, was confirmed on Monday to the Supreme Court, capping a lightning-fast Senate approval that handed President Donald Trump a victory before the election and promised to tip the court to the right for years to come.
Inside a Capitol mostly emptied by the resurgent coronavirus pandemic and an election eight days away, Republicans overcame unanimous Democratic opposition to make Barrett the 115th justice of the Supreme Court and the fifth woman. The vote was 52-48, with all but one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, who is battling for re-election, supporting her.
It was the first time in 151 years that a justice was confirmed without a single vote from the minority party, a sign of how bitter Washington's war over judicial nominations has become.
The vote concluded a brazen drive by Republicans to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just six weeks before the election. They shredded their own past pronouncements and bypassed rules in the process, even as they stared down the potential loss of the White House and the Senate.
Democrats insisted Republican should have waited for voters to have their say on Election Day. They warned of a disastrous precedent that would draw retaliation should they win power, and in a last-ditch act of protest, they unsuccessfully tried to force the Senate to adjourn before the confirmation vote.
Republicans said it was their right as the majority party and exulted in their win. In replacing Ginsburg, a liberal icon, the court is gaining a conservative who could sway cases in every area of American life, including abortion rights, gay rights, business regulation and the environment.
Her impact could be felt right away. There are major election disputes awaiting immediate action by the Supreme Court from the battleground states of North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Both concern the date by which absentee ballots may be accepted.
Soon after, Barrett will confront a docket studded with major cases on Trump's policies, not to mention a potential challenge to the election results that the president had cited as a reason he needed a full complement of justices before Nov. 3. Coming up quickly are challenges related to the Affordable Care Act, signature Trump administration immigration plans, the rights of same-sex couples and the census.
The court is also slated to act soon on a last-ditch attempt from Trump's personal lawyers to block the release of his financial records to a grand jury in Manhattan.
No Supreme Court justice is a certain vote, and Barrett pledged during her confirmation hearings to be an independent mind. But she is widely viewed as a judge in the mold of Scalia, her mentor, who would rule consistently in favor of conservative positions.
A jubilant Trump, working to bolster his flagging re-election campaign, held an unusual swearing-in ceremony shortly after the vote on Monday night on the White House lawn.
Justice Clarence Thomas administered the oath to Barrett, who chose him for the occasion.
"It is the job of a judge to resist her policy preferences," she said after thanking the president and top Senate Republicans. "It would be a dereliction of duty for her to give in to them."
Democrats sought to churn up a storm of outrage that they hoped would help sweep Republicans out of power and could set the stage for their own majority should it come to be.
Taking aim directly at Republican senators, they warned that the decision to rush ahead with the election-season confirmation four years after denying a vote to Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, under similar circumstances would come to haunt them.
"You may win this vote, and Amy Coney Barrett may become the next associate justice of the Supreme Court," said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader. "But you will never, never get your credibility back. And the next time the American people give Democrats a majority in this chamber, you will have forfeited the right to tell us how to run that majority."