Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to the Supreme Court late Monday by a deeply divided Senate, with Republicans overpowering Democrats to install President Donald Trump’s nominee days before the election and secure a likely conservative court majority for years to come.
Trump’s choice to fill the vacancy of the late liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg potentially opens a new era of rulings on abortion, the Affordable Care Act and even his own election. Democrats were unable to stop the outcome, Trump’s third justice on the court, as Republicans raced to reshape the judiciary.
Barrett, 48, will be able to start work Tuesday, her lifetime appointment as the 115th justice solidifying the court’s rightward tilt.
“This is a momentous day for America,” Trump said at a prime-time swearing-in event on the South Lawn at the White House, prior to Justice Clarence Thomas administering the Constitutional Oath to Barrett before a crowd of about 200.
Barrett told those gathered that she believes “it is the job of a judge to resist her policy preferences.” She vowed, “I will do my job without any fear or favor.”
Monday’s vote was the closest high court confirmation ever to a presidential election, and the first in modern times with no support from the minority party. The spiking COVID-19 crisis has hung over the proceedings. Vice President Mike Pence declined to preside at the Senate unless his tie-breaking vote was needed, after Democrats asked him to stay away after his aides tested positive for COVID-19. The vote was 52-48, and Pence’s vote was not necessary.
“Voting to confirm this nominee should make every single senator proud,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, fending off “outlandish” criticism in a lengthy speech. During a rare weekend session he declared that Barrett’s opponents “won’t be able to do much about this for a long time to come.”
Barrett was expected to take the judicial oath administered by Chief Justice John Roberts in a private ceremony Tuesday at the court to begin participating in proceedings.
Underscoring the political divide during the pandemic, Republican senators, most wearing masks, sat in their seats as is tradition for landmark votes, and applauded the outcome, with fist-bumps. Democratic senators emptied their side, heeding party leadership’s advice to not linger in the chamber. A Rose Garden event with Trump to announce Barrett’s nomination last month ended up spreading the virus, including to some GOP senators who have since returned from quarantine.
Pence’s presence would have been expected for a high-profile moment. But Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and his leadership team said it would not only violate virus guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “it would also be a violation of common decency and courtesy.”
Democrats argued for weeks that the vote was being improperly rushed and insisted during an all-night Sunday session it should be up to the winner of the Nov. 3 election to name the nominee. However, Barrett, a federal appeals court judge from Indiana, will be able to swiftly start hearing cases.
Speaking near midnight Sunday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., called the vote “illegitimate” and “the last gasp of a desperate party.”
Several matters are awaiting decision just a week before Election Day, and Barrett could be a decisive vote in Republican appeals of orders extending the deadlines for absentee ballots in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
The justices also are weighing Trump’s emergency plea for the court to prevent the Manhattan District Attorney from acquiring his tax returns. And on Nov. 10, the court is expected to hear the Trump-backed challenge to the Obama-era Affordable Care Act. Just before the Senate vote began, the court sided with Republicans in refusing to extend the deadline for absentee ballots in Wisconsin.
Trump has said he wanted to swiftly install a ninth justice to resolve election disputes and is hopeful the justices will end the health law known as “Obamacare.”
Democrats were unified against Barrett. While two Democratic senators voted to confirm Barrett in 2017 after Trump nominated the Notre Dame Law School professor to the appellate court, none voted to confirm her to the high court.
In a display of party priorities, California Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, returned to Washington from the campaign trail to join colleagues with a no vote.
No other Supreme Court justice has been confirmed on a recorded vote with no support from the minority party in at least 150 years, according to information provided by the Senate Historical Office.