Judge Amy Coney Barrett moved one step closer to a seat on the Supreme Court on Thursday as the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced her nomination with solely Republican support after Democrats boycotted the vote in protest of what they viewed as an illegitimate confirmation process.
But before then, Democrats are expected to throw up more procedural roadblocks — as they have been doing all week — and launch numerous floor speeches to frame what they say is the imminent threat Barrett poses to the future of abortion rights, gay rights and the fate of the Affordable Care Act.
Republicans, however, have been undeterred, vowing to swiftly install a 48-year-old jurist whose qualifications to serve on the Supreme Court have not been in dispute. Barrett’s installation would solidify a 6-3 conservative majority on the court and give President Trump his third successfully confirmed Supreme Court pick, just days before the Nov. 3 election.
“I could not live with myself if I denied her her day,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Of Democrats, Graham insisted that Republicans are “not going to allow them to take over the committee.”
Graham also defended Barrett’s personal beliefs after Democrats expressed concern during the confirmation hearings that her presence on the Supreme Court would result in further abortion restrictions. Both liberals and conservatives have suggested, based on her academic writings, personal beliefs and rulings as a judge, that she would support restricting or outright overturning the landmark 1973 abortion rights decision Roe v. Wade that guarantees a woman’s right to an abortion.
Barrett repeatedly declined to offer her legal views on presidential authority and voter intimidation, and insisted that she wasn’t familiar with Trump’s positions on issues such as climate change and the health-care law.
“To all the people out there wondering about Judge Barrett I can tell you this: The law of Amy will not be applied to the case and controversy,” Graham added. “It will be the law as written in the Constitution or by statute or whatever regulatory body she is going to review. She will take her job on without agenda.”
Even though Democratic senators skipped the committee vote, they made their presence known. In their seats were 10 large portraits of constituents — whether it was Carrie from Delaware or Kenny from Illinois — who had benefited from protections mandated by the 2010 health-care law that ensures that millions of Americans with preexisting medical conditions can’t be denied coverage or pay more for insurance.
Each person’s story had been highlighted by Democrats during Barrett’s confirmation hearings last week, which centered on health care and whether she would be a vote to strike down the Affordable Care Act. The court will hear oral arguments Nov. 10 in the GOP-led challenge, backed by the Trump administration, to invalidate the law.
“No matter where you come down on this, this is personal,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said. “And this Republican majority and this president have chosen to make, as their closing argument, that they're going to push through a nominee whose record shows us just where she's going to come out on so many things.”
Trump injected his own thoughts as to what the Supreme Court should do on the health-care law in excerpts of a “60 Minutes” interview released Thursday. “It’ll be so good if they end it,” he said.
And on Barrett herself, Trump made his pleasure known in a tweet: “Judiciary Committee approves Judge Barrett. Moves to full Senate for final vote. Big day for America!”
Trump nominated Barrett, a judge on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, on Sept. 26, eight days after the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Rather than showing up for the committee vote, nine Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee — all except Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), the party’s vice-presidential nominee — and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) gathered on the front steps of the Capitol to decry the confirmation process for Barrett and how they expect her to rule as a justice.
“The nomination of Amy Coney Barrett is the most illegitimate process I have ever witnessed in the Senate,” Schumer said. “Her potential confirmation will have dire, dire consequences for the Senate, for the Supreme Court and our entire country for generations to come.”
Schumer, who accused the Senate Republicans of “conducting the most rushed, the most partisan, and the least legitimate nomination to the Supreme Court in the nation’s history,” said the Democrats “will not lend a single ounce of legitimacy to this sham vote in the Judiciary Committee.
Protesters on both sides of the debate made their views known. Some heckled the Democrats with profanities as they spoke. Outside the Senate building, others dressed in the crimson robes and white bonnets of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the television drama based on Margaret Atwood’s book, shouted “Trump-Pence, out now” and “Stop the confirmation.”
For their part, Republicans again warned the public that Democrats will surely move to expand the number of seats on the Supreme Court should they win the White House and flip control of the Senate in less than two weeks.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, facing pressure from the party’s base to embrace “court-packing,” said in his forthcoming “60 Minutes” interview that he would propose a bipartisan commission to study potential court reforms but that the issue of expanding the Supreme Court was certainly a “live ball.”
Graham mused that the Democrats would be positioned to expand the Supreme Court to at least 13 justices. In a brief interview after the committee vote, Graham dismissed Biden’s commission proposal and said if Democrats regain the levers of power in Washington, “they’re going to pack the court and Joe’s not going to be able to stop it.”
“As Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out, there goes the crown jewels of the American republic,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said Thursday of the court-packing proposals. “Our independent judiciary becomes nothing but another political body, a second legislative or political branch.”
In light of Biden’s comments, Democratic senators still tried to keep the focus on Barrett’s looming confirmation vote and the elections. Of the former Democratic vice president’s proposal, Schumer said that “everything is on the table when we get the majority.”
But “first job, get the majority,” Schumer said.
So Democrats continued to cast Barrett as a threat to health care and reproductive rights.
“Last week Democrats participated in the nomination hearings because we wanted to show what was at stake for America if Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed. We made our case about risks to affordable care, especially the Affordable Care Act, reproductive freedom, the right to vote and equality for all,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee, said at the news conference. “We believe both the Affordable Care Act and Roe v. Wade could be lost.”
Democrats have lashed out at Republicans, calling them hypocrites based on their actions in 2016 when the court had a vacancy.
Then, McConnell refused to consider nominee Merrick Garland, the choice of President Barack Obama to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016.
McConnell and Senate Republicans, including Graham, insisted that the president chosen in November of that year, eight months after Obama’s nomination, should fill the seat.
Republicans argue that the circumstances now are different because Republicans hold the White House and the Senate majority.
Democrats also accused Graham of breaking committee rules to hold the vote, since the panel generally requires two members of the minority to be present to conduct committee business.
But Republican aides said that if a majority of the entire committee is present — which on Thursday it was — that means the Judiciary Committee can go ahead, under long-standing precedents. There have been more than a half-dozen instances, including under Democratic control, since 2006 when the committee has conducted business without two members of the minority being there.
Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee
President Trump has nominated federal appellate judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Barrett testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. The committee advanced the nomination with solely Republican support Thursday, as Democrats boycotted the vote in protest of what they viewed as an illegitimate confirmation process. The full Senate is set to vote next week.
Who is Amy Coney Barrett? A disciple of Justice Antonin Scalia is poised to push the Supreme Court further right
What happens next: Here’s how the confirmation process for Barrett will unfold