Trump taps Amy Coney Barrett for Supreme Court, setting up confirmation sprint

President Trump on Saturday officially nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court, revealing his choice at a Rose Garden ceremony and kicking off a sprint to get the conservative judge confirmed before Election Day.

It was widely reported on Friday night that Barrett was Trump’s choice for the vacancy, taking some of the drama out of the president’s formal announcement. Now the focus shifts to a looming confirmation fight that is expected to conclude with Barrett becoming the youngest member of a 6-3 conservative-majority court.

“Today it is my honor to nominate one of our nation’s most brilliant and gifted legal minds to the Supreme Court,” Trump said in front of a crowd of dozens of administration officials, GOP lawmakers and White House allies.

“She is a woman of unparalleled achievement, towering intellect, sterling credentials and unyielding loyalty to the constitution.”

Barrett, 48, a Trump-appointed federal appeals court judge and former professor at Notre Dame Law School, her alma mater, was seen by anti-abortion activists and White House allies as a trusted choice to tilt the court right and energize Trump’s conservative Christian supporters. 

She was viewed as an immediate favorite to replace Ginsburg, having already gone through the vetting process in 2018 when Trump ultimately nominated Brett Kavanaugh to replace former Justice Anthony Kennedy. Trump previously told allies that he was “saving” Barrett as a nominee to replace Ginsburg, Axios reported in 2019.

Barrett was joined during Saturday’s ceremony by her husband and seven children. She delivered prepared remarks in which she paid respect to Ginsburg.

“Justice Ginsburg began her career at a time when women were not welcome in the legal profession,” Barrett said. “But she not only broke glass ceilings, she shattered them. For that, she has won the admiration of women across the country and indeed all over the world.”

Much of the focus of her speech was on her family and her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Barrett pledged to model her judicial approach after that of Scalia, whose emphasis on the meaning of legal text – often at the exclusion of policy or other considerations — is now a pillar of conservative jurisprudence.

“Judges are not policymakers, and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they might hold,” Barrett said, noting that Scalia had an “incalculable influence on my life.” 

Administration officials and outside conservative groups felt a sense of familiarity with Barrett and her views and believed she’d be a reliably conservative vote on the court, according to sources familiar with the selection process, making her the preferred pick among many White House allies.

The president met with Barrett at the White House earlier in the week.

Barrett edged out Judge Barbara Lagoa, a Trump appointee to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, who was viewed as the only other serious contender and was pushed by a number of the president’s allies in Florida, a critical swing state in this year’s election. But Lagoa’s lack of a judicial record on abortion in particular worried some close to the White House, and Barrett’s conservative bona fides ultimately won out.

A former clerk for late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Barrett was nominated by Trump and confirmed in a 55-43 vote by the Senate to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in 2017. At the time, three Democratic senators supported her nomination: Joe Donnelly (Ind.), who subsequently lost his 2018 reelection bid, Tim Kaine (Va.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.).

Barrett became something of a favorite in conservative circles during her 2017 confirmation hearing, when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) raised concerns about the judge’s Catholic faith factoring into her rulings. The senator at one point told Barrett, “The conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you” — an epithet that some conservative Catholics went on to wryly embrace, printing the phrase on T-shirts and coffee mugs.

“On the side of conservatives, people are going to be thrilled by this pick,” said Carrie Severino, president of the conservative group Judicial Crisis Network. “There’s a lot of people who have been so impressed by and in love with Amy really since her first confirmation process when they saw the grace under pressure with which she handled Sen. Feinstein’s attacks on her faith.”

Ginsburg, who died last week from cancer at age 87, was a reliably liberal vote who in many respects stands to be replaced by her ideological opposite. If confirmed, Barrett is seen as likely to lend a sympathetic audience to legal challenges targeting abortion rights, the scope of federal agencies and the Affordable Care Act, former President Obama’s sweeping health care law, which faces another GOP-led challenge during the court’s upcoming term.

Democrats fear a rightward shift on the court could radically reshape the lives of millions of Americans. With a 6-3 conservative majority in place, even relatively stable areas of law — such as race relations, voting rights and environmental regulatory power — could be upended, giving conservative activists a chance to reverse liberal gains and cement their own legal agenda for years to come.

Conservative groups are expected to flood the airwaves with ads and rally grassroots support to confirm Barrett. Trump has said he hopes to have Barrett confirmed before Election Day, setting up an ambitious timeline to pack in confirmation hearings and a final vote by Nov. 3.

But with just five weeks until the 2020 election, Trump’s selection of Barrett also carries political risk: Placing a staunch conservative in the seat long occupied by Ginsburg, a liberal icon, may stoke the country’s partisan culture war, heighten Democrats’ concerns over an imminent rollback of hard-won legal advances and alienate some of the country’s more moderate voters.

Barrett will begin meeting with senators to kick off the confirmation process. The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to start a four-day hearing for her nomination on Oct. 12, which will allow Republicans to hold a vote before the Nov. 3 election.

If Barrett is confirmed before Election Day, it would set a record for the closest date to a presidential election that a Supreme Court pick has been confirmed.

Democrats have railed against Republicans for the last week over their pledge to fill Ginsburg’s seat before the election, accusing them of hypocrisy for their refusal to give a hearing to Judge Merrick Garland after Scalia died in February of 2016.

“The United States Constitution was designed to give the voters one chance to have their voice heard on who serves on the Court,” Democratic nominee Joe Biden said in a statement following Trump’s announcement.

“That moment is now and their voice should be heard. The Senate should not act on this vacancy until after the American people select their next president and the next Congress.”

But with little leverage to stop the hearings from going forward, Democrats and their allies are expected to instead portray Barrett as a threat to health care accessibility and reproductive rights.

Elizabeth Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, a progressive nonprofit firm that filed amicus briefs in two dozen Supreme Court cases last term, said Saturday’s announcement recalled Trump’s earlier pledges to appoint justices who would dismantle ObamaCare and overturn Roe v. Wade.

“Given Trump’s repeated promises over the years, there is every reason to believe Judge Barrett fits his criteria,” she said. “Indeed, Judge Barrett has disparaged Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion upholding the Affordable Care Act and referred to Roe as an ‘erroneous decision.’” 

Trump urged the Senate to move forward without delay to consider Barrett’s nomination, adding sarcastically that he was confident it would be an “extremely non-controversial” process.

“I further urge all members of the other side of the aisle to provide Judge Barrett with the respectful and dignified hearing that she deserves, and frankly that the country deserves,” Trump said. “The stakes for our country are incredibly high.”

Updated to the 5:58 p.m.

Tags abortion rights Brett Kavanaugh Dianne Feinstein Donald Trump Joe Biden Joe Donnelly Joe Manchin Merrick Garland Ruth Bader Ginsburg Supreme Court Tim Kaine
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