WASHINGTON (CN) — Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham steamrolled precedent Thursday and set a vote for Oct. 22 on the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to sit on the Supreme Court.
Democrats objected to the GOP majority scheduling the committee vote to move Barrett’s nomination to a full vote in the Senate before the panel had completed the confirmation hearing. Her nomination has been on the fast track since the start with President Donald Trump wasting little time in announcing his pick to fill the seat held for 27 years by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said it was unlike anything she had ever seen in her more than two decades in the committee.
Democrats accuse the GOP of hurtling Barrett’s nomination to get ahead of next month’s presidential election, expecting that a 6-3 conservative majority on the bench will favor the Trump administration when the court hears arguments on any election case as well as the challenge to the federal health care law on Nov. 10.
Feinstein added Thursday that the move scheduling the Oct. 22 vote “abrogates the value of hearings that this committee should treasure and respect.”
Democrats said it is unprecedented that the full Senate will vote on Barrett days out from the Nov. 3 presidential election, while Graham dismissed the concerns saying the schedule mirrors that of past judicial nominees.
GOP senators have repeatedly reminded Democrats that Justice Sandra Day O'Connor moved from nomination to confirmation in just 33 days in 1981. Graham on Thursday likened the timeline to Ginsburg’s 1993 confirmation, but the process of confirming the liberal stalwart who died last month took 42 days.
Minutes into Thursday's session, Senator Dick Durbin criticized Graham for calling for the “yays” and “nays” without a quorum — the minimum number of senators to conduct business and hold a vote.
“If we create this problem for you in the future, you’re going to do what I’m going to do,” Graham said.
The chairman pushed past the attempt to delay and called for the roll. The motion to schedule Barrett’s vote for next Thursday at 1 p.m. passed on party lines with a 12-10 vote.
Durbin voted proxy “no” for eight Democrats on the committee, while Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal cast his own vote not to proceed with scheduling the committee vote.
Blumenthal also raised a motion to indefinitely postpone Barrett’s nomination, but it died on party lines 12-10 after more than an hour of partisan debate.
“You’re moving ahead with this nomination because you can,” Blumenthal said. “But might does not make right.”
Republican Senator John Cornyn dismissed the Democrats' concerns with Barrett’s record as “straw men.”
“The regret, the disappointment of our Democratic colleagues is real, because they’ve become accustomed to the Supreme Court being policy makers and being a body that bails them out,” Cornyn said.
Still Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, echoed Feinstein that the nomination process was “beneath the dignity of this committee.”
Senator Patrick Leahy, 80, who participated remotely, and Senator Chris Coons both balked at the committee proceeding with a vote before hearing from witnesses and Barrett answering questions on the record.
After the votes Thursday, the committee heard testimony from 10 witnesses including a recently retired D.C. Circuit judge and a former student of Barrett who became the first blind Supreme Court clerk in 2019.
Coons also raised concern over Barrett’s refusal on Wednesday to state that Griswold v. Connecticut, a Supreme Court ruling in 1965 establishing the right to privacy to purchase and use contraception, was correctly decided.
Her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, had argued the landmark decision veered from the written text of the Constitution, a reflection of the originalist philosophy that Barrett shares.
Barrett time and again in the grueling two days of questioning declined to opine on Supreme Court precedent, invoking Ginsburg saying at her confirmation hearing in 1993 that she would provide “no hints, no previews, no forecasts.”
Democrats pressed her to provide direct answers, arguing the American people have the right to know her legal views on long-settled cases.
“I have concluded that Judge Barrett is even more willing than Justice Scalia to overturn precedents with which she agrees, and made clear that justices should feel free to overturn cases that they believe are wrongly decided,” Coons said Thursday.
American Bar Association officials testified Thursday that Barrett was extremely well-qualified for the high court, having been vetted for the bench by an extensive investigation.
Thousands of hours went into reviewing Barrett’s legal perspectives and studies, the two ABA representatives told senators.
Testifying remotely, retired U.S. Circuit Judge Thomas Griffith called it “deeply disturbing” that political leaders and pundits expect judges will cast votes on partisan preference. These assumptions “undermine public confidence in an independent judiciary," added Griffith, who was nominated to the D.C. Circuit by President George W. Bush.
Like Barrett, Griffith identified himself as an originalist and textualist. His retirement last month made room for a Trump nominee to the D.C. Circuit.
“The rule of law is a fragile possibility that should be more carefully safeguarded by our leaders,” the retired jurist said, calling Barrett extremely well qualified to serve as a justice.
Testifying for Democrats, meanwhile, Kristen Clarke, the executive director and president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said she was troubled by the stances that Barrett has taken on a myriad of issues including the right to vote, a woman’s right to body autonomy and presidential powers. Clarke warned that Barrett's confirmation sends a disconcerting message to the millions of Americans who have already cast their 2020 ballots.
“Our nation deserves a justice who is committed to protecting the hard-earned rights of all Americans, particularly our nation’s most vulnerable,” Clarke said over videoconference.
But Barrett’s former student at Notre Dame, Laura Wolk, who worked for Justice Clarence Thomas last year as the first blind clerk in the high court, said the judge treats everyone as equal and deserving of respect.
“Anyone who has interacted with her knows that she is a woman of her word. She means what she says and she says what she means,” Wolk said.
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