The Senate voted to confirm Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett with 52 Republican votes and over the objections of Democrats, who say Barrett was nominated too close to the election and will shift the closely divided court far to the right.
While Republicans rejoiced at Barrett’s confirmation, some Democrats are now threatening to expand the high court with new liberal judges if they take over the majority in next week’s election.
The Senate, meanwhile, won’t be back for legislative business until a post-election, lame-duck session, dashing any last-minute hope that Congress would pass a new round of coronavirus aid before Nov. 3.
The final tally for the confirmation vote was 52-48
Barrett, 48, will be sworn in at the White House later Monday and will take her place in time to hear a critical Supreme Court case that will decide whether Obamacare is legal without the now-eliminated individual mandate.
Democrats warned she’ll provide the vote to end Obamacare, including the law’s protections for those with preexisting conditions.
Barrett will fill a vacancy left by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal icon who died on Sept. 18 and who Democrats hoped would have remained on the court until a potential win by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
Republicans were determined to usher Barrett onto the court by Election Day, however. Barrett was the top pick among conservatives and many Republicans on Capitol Hill to fill the vacancy left by Ginsburg, in part because of her anti-abortion stance and adherence to originalism, which calls for interpreting the constitution as originally written.
“Judge Amy Coney Barrett is as impressive as they come,” Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said.
A widely praised legal scholar, Barrett said she models her judicial philosophy after the late Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the most conservative Justices to sit on the court. She was confirmed by the Senate in 2017 to serve on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Her swift confirmation ran into few hurdles, despite the staunch opposition from Democrats, because Republicans control the majority.
Thanks to changes both parties approved in the last decade, judicial nominees require only a simple majority to win confirmation instead of the typical 60 votes required in the past.
Barrett breezed through three days of confirmation hearings earlier this month in the Judiciary Committee and won high praise from Republicans for deftly navigating without any notes, answering tough questions, and countering attempts by Democrats to force her to reveal how she would rule on key issues such as healthcare and abortion access.
The Senate remained in session all weekend, including overnight Sunday, to finish the required 30 hours of debate ahead of Monday’s vote.
Democrats made the case the Senate should have postponed consideration of a nominee until the election was over and the next president was sworn into office. Republicans in 2016 refused to take up Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia nine months before the 2018 election.
“It is one week before an election, we are here all night ramming through a Supreme Court nominee in record time, simply because you can,” Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, said during a speech he delivered in the middle of the night on the Senate floor and aimed at the GOP. “Not because it’s good for the country, just because you can.”
Republicans said Democrats could make no legitimate case against Barrett’s nomination. Barrett is a widely respected judge with an unblemished record. She received the highest rating from the American Bar Association.
“By now, I don’t need to tell anybody she is one of the most highly qualified Supreme Court candidates in living memory,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, said on the Senate floor Monday. “For my Democratic colleagues, this has never been about Judge Barrett’s qualifications. Democrats were never going to support this nomination, no matter how supremely qualified the individual in question.”
Thune called claims by Democrats that Barrett is being sent to the Supreme Court expressly to end Obamacare “a ludicrous charge” and pointed out the entire GOP Senate backs maintaining the healthcare law’s protections for preexisting conditions, no matter what the court decides.
Some Senate Democrats are now demanding the party immediately commit to expanding the nine-member Supreme Court so that the party can pack it with justices of its own choosing.
“We must expand the Supreme Court,” Sen. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, tweeted.
Biden had at first refused to say whether he supports court-packing but said last week if he is elected, he’ll appoint a bipartisan commission to study it.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, when asked about court-packing, told fellow Democrats, “Nothing is off the table.”