WASHINGTON — President Trump on Saturday announced that he is nominating Amy Coney Barrett to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on Sept. 18. The move was the first step in a rapid confirmation push aimed at having Coney Barrett seated before the presidential election. If confirmed, Coney Barrett is likely to cement a conservative majority on the nation’s highest court for years to come.
Trump unveiled his choice, which was widely expected, to an audience of about 200 people in the White House Rose Garden.
Coney Barrett, 48, is currently a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which has jurisdiction over a large swath of the Midwest. A native of Louisiana, she received her undergraduate and law degrees from Notre Dame, and went on to teach there as well. In the late 1990s she clerked for former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who was a leading figure in conservative legal circles prior to his death in 2016. She was nominated to the federal judiciary by Trump in 2017.
Like Scalia, Coney Barrett has earned a reputation as an originalist who favors strict adherence to the Constitution. She has also drawn attention for her religious views, which became an issue during her confirmation to the appeals court. Coney Barrett is a member of a self-described charismatic Christian group called “People of Praise” that includes both Roman Catholics and Pentecostals. The group refers to female members as “handmaids.”
A devout Catholic, Coney Barrett faced questions from Democrats about whether her beliefs might influence her decisions on the bench when she joined the federal judiciary in 2017. Coney Barrett has repeatedly insisted religious and political concerns would not sway her judgments. Nevertheless, liberal groups have pointed to Coney Barrett’s past commentary as evidence she could seek to erode LGBTQ rights or overturn Roe v. Wade as a Supreme Court Justice. On Friday evening, as reports emerged that Trump selected Coney Barrett, the LGBTQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign released a statement blasting her selection.
“Amy Coney Barrett’s history tells a story of anti-LGBTQ ideology, opposing basic rights thought to be settled law, and an anti-choice ideology out of step with popular opinion,” the statement said.
HRC cited past comments Coney Barrett made criticizing the decision in Obergfell v. Hodges, a 2015 case where the Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage was a fundamental right. Coney Barrett has suggested the question of same-sex marriage should be left to individual states. The group also pointed to comments Coney Barrett made describing Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that protected abortion rights as an “erroneous” ruling.
Conservatives have criticized questions about Coney Barrett’s religion and the potential it might motivate her to seek to change existing precedents as anti-Catholic bigotry. In a statement released on Thursday, the Christian activist group Family Research Council accused liberals of engaging in an “anti-Christian smear campaign.”
“The startling level of anti-Christian bias already on display against Barrett reveals how far outside of the mainstream the Left has become and how determined they are to oppose whoever President Trump nominates to fill this vacancy,” FRC President President Tony Perkins said.
Coney Barrett’s confirmation is also likely to be contentious since the timing of her nomination directly conflicts with past statements Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans have made about replacing a Supreme Court justice in the period leading up to an election.
In 2016, after Scalia’s death, Democratic President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland as his replacement, which would have meant liberals would have gained a slim majority on the court. At the time, it was about 10 months prior to the last presidential election and McConnell refused to allow a confirmation vote for Garland on the grounds that it would be inappropriate to allow a new justice to be selected before Americans chose a new president.
Hours after Ginsburg’s passing, McConnell reversed course and indicated he would allow a vote on a Trump nominee even though, at the time, only about six weeks remained until the election. In the days since, multiple Republicans who previously indicated they agreed with the precedent that became known as the “McConnell rule” also back-tracked and changed their positions.
McConnell’s decision to block Garland allowed Trump to fill the seat with Justice Neil Gorsuch in 2017. Trump also confirmed Justice Brett Kavanaugh the following year. If Coney Barrett is confirmed, it will mean Trump would have appointed three justices, leaving conservatives with a solid, generational majority.
However, some Democrats have already begun fighting Coney Barrett. On Friday evening, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a former Democratic presidential candidate, tweeted that the Senate minority should not allow Coney Barrett to be confirmed following multiple reports Trump planned to nominate her.
“No confirmation before the inauguration,” Warren wrote.
Republicans have countered that it is necessary to have a full nine member Supreme Court prior to the election to prevent a potential tie on the bench in the event the presidential race comes down to a court decision.
“One of the biggest reason we will confirm the nominee BEFORE Election Day is to ensure a full 9-Justice majority to resolve any (inevitable) election disputes. Dems desperately, desperately don’t want that,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted on Saturday.
Like many of his colleagues, Cruz had the opposite view in the waning days of Obama’s presidency.
Despite the uproar, it appears unlikely Democrats have the votes to block Coney Barrett’s nomination. Due to the Republican majority, four Senators would need to cross party lines to prevent Coney Barrett from taking the bench. So far, only two, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Maine’s Susan Collins, have indicated they might not vote for her confirmation. The pair both echoed McConnell’s past concerns about holding a confirmation near to an election.
Some liberals have suggested Democrats might be able to use procedural maneuvers to block Coney Barrett’s nomination. On Friday progressive writer David Sirota reported a memo was making the rounds on Capitol Hill that encouraged Democrats to delay confirmation hearings until after the election by having their House majority propose measures that would take precedence on the Senate floor, among other things.
But others have rejected the notion Democrats have a path to blocking Coney Barrett without earning votes from across the aisle. In an interview with Yahoo News’ Skullduggery podcast, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat who is on the Senate Judiciary Committee, rejected the notion the opposition party could thwart a Trump nominee who has enough Republican backing.
“If there were some triple-secret procedural trick that we could pull we would have been pretty negligent in not pulling it in those two earlier proceedings,” Whitehouse said.
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