Amy Coney Barrett reacts as US President Donald Trump holds an event to announce her as his nominee to fill the supreme court seat left vacant by the death of justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Picture: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA
Amy Coney Barrett reacts as US President Donald Trump holds an event to announce her as his nominee to fill the supreme court seat left vacant by the death of justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Picture: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA

Washington — Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation by the Senate on Monday night was a touchstone accomplishment for President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans that solidifies a 6-3 conservative majority on the supreme court just eight days before the US election.

The Senate confirmed Barrett on a partisan 52-48 vote, and justice Clarence Thomas administered the first of two required oaths to Barrett on the South Lawn of the White House a short time later with Trump looking on. Chief justice John Roberts will administer the second oath in a private ceremony at the supreme court on Tuesday, letting Barrett begin work as a justice.

Barrett may be asked to weigh in on cases that would determine the outcome of a close election, and is expected to vote on whether the Affordable Care Act is constitutional soon after she joins the court.

“This is a momentous day for America, for the United States constitution, and for the fair and impartial rule of law,” Trump said. Barrett, he said, “will make an outstanding justice on the highest court in our land.”

Elevating the 48-year-old jurist helps fulfil a long-standing GOP goal of transforming the federal bench into a conservative legal bulwark. With the clearest anti-abortion record of any high court nominee in decades, Barrett’s appointment also is a victory for evangelical Christian groups that have loyally supported Republicans and are a crucial voting bloc for Trump as he heads into election day trailing Democrat Joe Biden.

“It’s a privilege to be asked to serve my country in this office and I stand here tonight truly honoured and humbled,” Barrett said.

“This was a rigorous confirmation process, and I thank all of you, especially leader McConnell and chairman Graham, to help me navigate it,” referring to Senator Republican leader Mitch McConnell and judiciary committee chair Lindsey Graham, both facing re-election next week.

She thanked White House staff and the department of justice for advising her in the confirmation process. She vowed to separate her personal political leanings from her judicial decisions.

“It is the job of a judge to resist her policy preferences,” she said. “It would be a dereliction of duty to give in to them.”

Trump and his GOP allies in the Senate pushed for a quick confirmation of Barrett, and it came just 38 days after the death of justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who for 27 years anchored the court’s liberal wing. Trump had said he wanted his replacement for Ginsburg in place to avoid a deadlocked court should the outcome of the presidential election depend on a ruling, as was the case in 2000.

All Democrats in the Senate voted against Barrett’s confirmation, as did Republicans Susan Collins of Maine, objecting to confirming a justice so close to the election.

The partisan vote on the confirmation mirrors the divisions in the country leading up to the election and on some of the issues that will be before the high court in the near future. Those issues include the validity of Obamacare and the status of the 1973 Roe vs Wade ruling that legalised abortion rights nationwide, as well as voting and civil rights.

The Mississippi attorney-general, meanwhile, has pitched the court to take up her state’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks in a case that could sharply limit Roe and for the first time let states outlaw the procedure before a foetus becomes viable.

Trump has said he wants the justices he has selected for the court — there are now three of them — to invalidate Obamacare and overturn Roe vs Wade.

The court is already addressing pre-election skirmishes over the rules for casting and counting ballots in the contest between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.

Just last week, the court deadlocked 4-4 on how many days Pennsylvania could wait after election day for mail-in votes to arrive, leaving in force a three-day extension for the receipt of absentee ballots in the pivotal state. Barrett could provide the fifth vote to overturn any state court ruling that expands voting, or otherwise favours Democrats.

The court also is scheduled to hear arguments November 30 on Trump’s attempt to exclude undocumented immigrants from the 2020 census, a case that could determine the allocation of house seats and federal dollars.

Barrett, 48, has served on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals since 2017 and taught at Notre Dame Law School. In three days of testimony during her confirmation hearings, she stressed she would be independent, while asserting she had no agenda but to follow the constitution and the law. She deflected questions about how she might rule on issues such as abortion.

Barrett’s nomination so close to the election and the rapid confirmation process drew an angry response from Democrats, who pointed to the refusal of Senate Republicans to even give a hearing to president Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, to fill a vacancy that arose in February 2016 because it was an election year.

While the number of justices has been set at nine since 1869, the Garland experience and the Barrett nomination has ignited a campaign by Democratic activists to expand the court in retaliation. The idea has not been embraced by Biden or Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.

Biden has said he would appoint a commission to consider court reform, while Schumer has said everything would be on the table next year if Democrats take back the Senate.

Republicans have long seen court battles as a motivator for turning out their base, and Republican senators including judiciary committee chair Graham of South Carolina are pinning their re-election hopes in large part on their successful efforts to shift the courts to the right.

They won’t have to wait long see whether their efforts bear fruit at the ballot box.

Bloomberg

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