WASHINGTON – The sprint by Senate Republicans to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to a lifetime post on the US Supreme Court – President Donald Trump’s third appointee – began in earnest on Tuesday (Sept 29) as the conservative judge met with senators at the US Capitol starting with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Barrett, who Trump on Saturday announced as his nominee to replace the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, began a day packed with informal meetings in a panelled Senate conference room.
Barrett, a favourite of religious conservatives, stood silently and motionlessly before a marble mantelpiece for the TV cameras, flanked on one side by Vice-President Mike Pence and other White House officials and on the other side by McConnell.
With Democrats opposing her nomination, Pence said Barrett should receive a “respectful hearing” before the Senate Judiciary Committee, followed by swift Senate confirmation.
“We truly do believe that Judge Barrett represents the best of America, personally, in terms of her great intellect and her great background,” Pence told reporters.
Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate and confirmation appears to be a certainty, but Democrats could try to make the process as rocky as possible with the Nov 3 US election looming.
If Barrett is confirmed as expected, the court’s conservative majority would widen to 6-3.
Neither Pence nor McConnell replied to questions about the timing of a Senate confirmation vote or whether Barrett should recuse herself from potential election-related cases that could come before the court.
Barrett’s meetings are part of a long-standing tradition leading into multi-day confirmation hearings set to begin on Oct 12.
Barrett is also scheduled on Tuesday to meet Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsey Graham and other Republican members of the panel including Chuck Grassley, Mike Lee and Mike Crapo.
Barrett, at 48 the youngest Supreme Court nominee since 1991, is expected to face questions at the confirmation hearing about her judicial philosophy and approach to the law. Barrett participated in a confirmation hearing in 2017 when Trump nominated her to the Chicago-based 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the regional appeals courts that are a step below the Supreme Court.
Democrats including the party’s presidential nominee Joe Biden have said the vacancy should be filled by the winner of the election, a view shared by a majority of Americans, according to recent opinion polls. Trump has asked his fellow Republicans in the Senate to confirm her before the election.
Senate Republicans in 2016 refused to consider a Supreme Court nomination by Trump’s Democratic predecessor Barack Obama because they said it would be inappropriate to do so during an election year.
Graham has said that his committee will likely vote on the nomination on Oct 22, setting up a final confirmation vote on the Senate floor by the end of the month.
Democrats are likely to seek a pledge from Barrett that she would recuse herself if election-related disputes reach the court.
In opposing Barrett, Democrats have highlighted her possible role as a deciding vote in a case to be argued at the Supreme Court on Nov 10 in which Trump’s administration and Republican-led states are seeking to invalidate the Affordable Care Act, the healthcare law commonly known as Obamacare.
On the 7th Circuit, Barrett has proven reliably conservative. Abortion rights groups have said Barrett’s addition to the court could jeopardise the landmark 1973 ruling that made abortion legal nationwide.