Senate Confirms Amy Coney Barrett to Supreme Court, Cementing Republican Majority Days Before Election
Amy Coney Barrett became the newest justice on the Supreme Court on Monday after the Senate confirmed her nomination by a largely party-line vote, marking a momentous — and controversial — victory for President Donald Trump and the Republican Party just one week ahead of Election Day.
Barrett was confirmed after the Senate voted Monday evening with a final tally of 52-48. As pointed out by the New York Times, it is the first time in 151 years that a justice was confirmed to the Supreme Court without any votes from the minority party.
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican to vote against Barrett's confirmation and previously said it was too close to the presidential election to confirm a new judge.
Barrett, a 48-year-old federal appeals judge, is one of the youngest people to join the high court and is viewed as a social conservative and judicial "originalist" in the sense that she interprets the law by its original text. (A mother of seven, she is also the rare recent jurist to have school-age children.)
Her confirmation cements the Supreme Court at a six-to-three Republican-appointed majority — possibly for years to come. And she could have major influence on upcoming rulings on health care as well as future challenges to abortion access and the results of the Nov. 3 election between Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
Barrett, a socially conservative Catholic who has spoken out about her personal opposition to abortion, faced criticism during her confirmation from Democrats who said she would overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
Barrett has also served as a trustee of several private Christian schools that did not welcome students of same-sex parents or gay teachers or transgender people, according to the Associated Press. (School officials told the AP that Barrett was not directly involved in the formation of anti-gay policy.)
However, she said that she will judge cases based on the law rather than on her personal or religious views.
Republicans have said scrutiny along these lines amounts to anti-Catholic bigotry, though they have faced their own backlash for pushing so quickly to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last month of cancer.
Democrats boycotted an earlier procedural vote on Barrett's confirmation, instead displaying photos of the people they said would be hurt by her health care rulings.
During Senate confirmation hearings earlier this month, Barrett was pushed on a host of hot-button issues. But she didn't offer firm answers regarding how she would rule, saying it would undercut her impartiality.
"I have no mission and no agenda," she said. "Judges don't have campaign promises."
"As I said when I was nominated to serve as a justice, I am used to being in a group of nine — my family," she said in her opening statement during her confirmation hearings. "Nothing is more important to me, and I am so proud to have them behind me."
"Courts have a vital responsibility to enforce the rule of law, which is critical to a free society. But courts are not designed to solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life," Barrett said then.
“I believe deeply in the rule of law and the place of the Supreme Court in our nation," Barrett said. "I believe Americans of all backgrounds deserve an independent Supreme Court that interprets our Constitution and laws as they are written."
Her plea of independence and nonpartisanship did not sway Democratic lawmakers who argued that Barrett's confirmation to the court is a threat to the future of the Affordable Care Act. Republicans have long sought to dismantle the Obama-era law despite a consensus on how to preserve its most popular provisions.
The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments on the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act just one week after Election Day, on Nov. 10.
When the Supreme Court first rejected a challenge to the constitutionality of ACA, it was Republican-appointed Chief Justice John Roberts who cast the fifth vote to uphold the law. In a 2017 law review essay, Barrett wrote critically of Roberts' decision, arguing he had "pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute."
Senate Democrats gave floor speeches overnight Sunday, opposing Barrett's confirmation.
Calling her a "radical" in a tweet published Monday, Vermont Sen. Chris Murphy claimed Barrett will "rule to invalidate Obamacare, causing 23M to lose insurance in the middle of a pandemic."
Following the Sept. 18 death of Ginsburg, the anchor of the court's liberal wing, Republicans rushed to confirm Barrett in advance of the Nov. 3 election, which polls show the party is in danger of losing.
Hours after the announcement of Ginsburg's death at 87, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed that the GOP majority would vote on a new nominee as soon as possible.
Democrats assailed what they called the Republicans' hypocrisy, given McConnell had blocked former President Barack Obama from filling a 2016 vacancy on the court because he said it was too close to that year's election. (Conservatives say the rule only applies when the White House is held by a different party.)
Trump officially announced Barrett as his nominee for Ginsburg's replacement at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden on Sept. 26. That event has come under much scrutiny after more than a dozen people who attended tested positive for the novel coronavirus, including the president, who ultimately had to be hospitalized due to the illness.
Despite this, the White House said it planned to host a swearing-in event for Barrett on Monday evening immediately following her confirmation.