WASHINGTON (CN) — President Donald Trump wasted no time after the Republican Senate confirmed Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court on Monday, sweeping her into the role of justice with a swearing-in ceremony at the White House.
The Senate voted 52-48 to confirm Barrett in a partisan vote on a justice seldom seen and reflective of the political tensions roiling Washington. The GOP victory shifts the high court to a 6-3 conservative majority.
“The oath that I have solemnly taken tonight means, at its core, that I will do my job without any fear or favor. And that I will do so independently of both the political branches and of my own preferences,” Barrett said after being sworn in by Justice Clarence Thomas.
Her rise to justice marks an unprecedented moment in U.S. history: no Supreme Court nominee has ever been confirmed so close to a presidential election.
With nearly 60 million Americans having voted early thus far in the lead up to next week’s white-knuckle election, Democrats argue the GOP stole from Americans the right to have a say on a justice to replace liberal icon Ruther Bader Ginsburg.
Powerless without the votes to block Trump’s nomination, they were indignant Monday over Republicans confirming Barrett just eight days out from the 2020 election.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the historic confirmation would go down as one of the darkest days in the 231-year history of the U.S. Senate.
He warned Republican senators that Americans will remember that the GOP installed a justice on the high court while voters were standing in line at the polls.
“I know that you think that this will eventually blow over, but you’re wrong. The American people will never forget this blatant act of bad faith. They will never forget your complete disregard for their voices,” Schumer said on the Senate floor ahead of the vote to confirm Barrett.
But Trump celebrated the judicial victory as a “momentous day for America.”
On the South Lawn of the White House, in a socially distanced event attended by members of his cabinet and GOP senators, the president praised Barrett for her “towering intellect” and noted that she is the first mother of school-aged children to serve on the Supreme Court.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the lead up to the confirmation vote claimed Democrats want “activist judges.”
The left’s view that the Founding Fathers “botched the job” when writing the role of the judiciary into the Constitution, he argued on the Senate floor, was at the heart of the political divisiveness on display during Barrett’s confirmation.
“These are not the days when Justice Scalia was confirmed 98 to nothing and Justice Ginsburg was confirmed 96-3,” McConnell said.
Democrats have warned voters that Barrett’s poses a threat to the future of health care, abortion rights, equality for LGBTQ Americans and presidential power.
The 48-year-old justice is Trump’s 220th judicial appointee, joining Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, 162 district court judges and two U.S. Court of International Trade judges.
Following her confirmation to the Seventh Circuit in 2017, Barrett was already one of 53 circuit court judges to be enrobed by Trump. Collectively, jurists appointed by Trump and confirmed by a Senate steered by McConnell now make up a quarter of the federal bench.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, had called on Barrett to postpone her swearing in until after American voters choose the next president to “remove any doubt about conflict of interests.”
But the Trump administration plowed ahead with Barrett’s investiture ceremony on Monday evening immediately following the Senate vote.
Barrett will take a second oath on Tuesday at the Supreme Court, upon which she will become an active justice alongside the sitting eight.
The pomp-and-circumstance event came less than one month after a coronavirus outbreak that scorched through the White House, set off by the maskless Rose Garden event Trump held to announce Barrett’s nomination.
Ginsburg, who died last month, took her oath to serve as justice in a private ceremony at the Supreme Court in 1993.
Democrats have repeatedly cautioned that Trump tapped Barrett to secure a victory in the Supreme Court in the event of a contested election.
The president said last month that he believes the outcome at the polls “will end up in the Supreme Court,” and that it will be “very important that we have nine justices.”
During her confirmation hearing, however, Barrett denied having an agenda.
“I have had no conversation with the president or any of his staff on how I might rule in that case,” she told senators.
But in the early rounds of a 30-hour debate preceding Monday’s vote, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee called out Barrett’s refusal to answer more than 100 questions during her confirmation hearing.
“She even hedged on whether presidents should commit to a peaceful transfer of power,” said California Senator Dianne Feinstein.
Schumer, saying Republicans were ramming Barrett through the nomination process, moved to adjourn the Senate on Monday, in a procedural tactic to delay the final vote to confirm. The motion died on party lines with a 53-46 vote.
McConnell and his caucus accused Democrats of making “apocalyptic predictions about policy.”
“Judge Barrett has displayed zero willingness to impose personal views or clumsily craft new policy with her gavel. She has demonstrated the judicial humility, the neutrality, and the commitment to our written Constitution that are essential for this office,” McConnell said.
Since Trump nominated Barrett, Democrats have relentlessly criticized the process as illegitimate with the election looming. They further argue it should not be ongoing amid a pandemic that has killed more than 225,000 Americans.
“The Republican Party is willing to ignore the pandemic in order to rush this nominee forward,” Schumer said Sunday.
Republicans meanwhile argue that such rhetoric ignores the nominee’s qualifications, calling Barrett brilliant, humble and unflappable.
“Democrats were never going to support this nomination no matter how supremely qualified the individual in question,” said Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the GOP whip.
But the nominee’s record has been a central focus for Democrats as well. Feinstein called Barrett’s lifetime appointment a direct threat to the Obama-era federal health care that insures millions of Americans, including seven million people with preexisting conditions such as Covid-19.
Just one week after Election Day, the Supreme Court is set to hear Nov. 10 oral arguments on a challenge to the Affordable Care Act.
Sharpening a claim that Democrats have made from the outset of Barrett’s nomination, Feinstein said that the former Notre Dame professor showed her intent to dismantle the law in 2017 when she wrote that the Supreme Court’s chief justice had “pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save statute.”
Another point Democrats made Sunday and into Monday is that Barrett seems ready and willing to disregard Supreme Court precedent that she believes conflicts with the Constitution.
Barrett declined during her confirmation hearing to affirm whether a host of landmark cases were settled law. Among these cases were Griswold v. Connecticut — a 1965 decision establishing the right to privacy to purchase and use contraception — as well as the abortion rulings in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
She wrote as an academic in 2013 that the duty of a justice is “to enforce her best understanding of the Constitution rather than a precedent she thinks clearly in conflict with it.”
“This was a surprising departure from the last four Republican nominees who acknowledged at their hearings that Griswold is in fact settled law, and that Roe and Casey are in fact important precedents of the court,” Feinstein said Sunday.
While Republicans have said for weeks that Democrats should not run with predictions on how Barrett will rule from the bench, GOP Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri tied Barrett’s views on abortion to the legitimacy of Roe.
“This is the most openly pro-life judicial nominee to the Supreme Court in my lifetime. This is an individual who has been open in her criticism of that illegitimate decision Roe vs. Wade,” he said Monday.
GOP senators have praised Barrett for her originalist judicial philosophy and conservative values, as she raced to secure the seat Ginsburg held for 27 years.
McConnell said that while President Barack Obama sought to appoint judges with empathy, Republicans over the last four years confirmed judges “who are sworn to uphold the law — and take it seriously.”
“And the reason that frightens these guys on the other side so much is because that’s exactly what they want: Another branch of legislators seeking outcomes that may or may not be reflected in the law or Constitution that’s before them,” the GOP leader said on Sunday.
But Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts argued Monday that Barrett’s espoused originalism, the practice of interpreting the Constitution as it was ratified more than 230 years ago, leads quickly to discrimination.
“Interpreting the Constitution in that matter has been used over and over to deny rights to women, to communities of color and to the LGBTQ individuals, members of our society who had no rights when the Constitution was ratified,” he said.
Senator Dick Durbin, the Democratic whip, added Barrett’s originalist approach is “a way to argue against change and evolution in America that is inevitable and in fact necessary.”
Republican Susan Collins of Maine was the lone senator to vote with Democrats to oppose the nominee, emphasizing her belief that the judicial vacancy should not be filled in an election year.
Many of her colleagues took a similar stance in 2016 — when they blocked Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland for eight months — only to reverse course in a Republican administration.
Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska had also signaled concern over the proximity of the confirmation to the election, but she said Saturday that she would vote “no” on the procedural votes to advance Barrett’s nomination, before voting “yes” to confirm Trump’s nominee.
“I believe that the only way to put us back on the path of appropriate consideration of judicial nominees, is to evaluate Judge Barrett as we would want to be judged — on the merits of her qualifications,” Murkowski said.
Senator Mitt Romney, briefly eyed as a Republican who may have opposed Barrett’s nomination, said Monday from the Senate floor that the soon-to-be justice’s presence on the court will be “essential to our nation as the confidence of the court itself is in the balance.”
In the event of the nine justices deciding the outcome of the election, Romney argued that “it is of paramount importance that such a decision follow the law and the Constitution where it leads, regardless of the outcome, and thereby be beyond reproach, clearly nonpolitical and preferably unanimous.”