The full US Senate will begin debating whether to add Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court on Friday, ahead of a vote scheduled Monday that is expected to fall along party lines, with the Republican members having the majority to confirm her.
Republicans in the United States Senate jammed the nomination of Barrett through a key committee Thursday, setting the stage for her confirmation to the Supreme Court on October 26.
In a meeting boycotted by Democrats, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 12 “yeas” – with 10 members marked “not present” – to recommend Barrett’s confirmation favourably to the full Senate.
“It’s moments like this, that make everything you go through matter,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
“It’s moments like this when you can tell young conservative women, there’s a place at the table for you,” said Graham, who is contending with a tough re-election battle in South Carolina.
“This is a groundbreaking, historic moment for the American legal community,” Graham said.
Barrett is a conservative legal scholar who was named to a US appeals court seat by President Donald Trump in 2017 and was favoured by Republicans to fill the next available US Supreme Court seat.
After the liberal icon Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died of cancer last month, Barrett was named by Trump to be her replacement, sparking howls from Democrats who argued Ginsburg’s seat should not be filled so close to a national election.
In 2016, the last year of Barack Obama’s presidency, Republicans in the Senate had blocked his nominee, US Appeals Judge Merrick Garland, from filling the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative.
At the time, Republicans argued that whoever won the 2016 election should name the next Supreme Court justice.
“We are boycotting this illegitimate hearing,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said at a news conference at the US Capitol.
“The Senate Republican majority is conducting the most rushed, most partisan, and least legitimate confirmation in the history of our county,” Schumer said.
“Democrats will not lend a single ounce of legitimacy to this sham vote,” he said, calling the Republican process a “mad rush to jam through a Supreme Court nomination just days before an election”.
Democrats are in the minority in the US Senate, which is controlled by Republicans by a 53-47 majority. But that could flip after the November 3 election.
Democrats fear seating Barrett on the nine-member Supreme Court would create a 6-3 conservative majority that would undo the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a 2010 law known as “Obamacare” that set up exchanges allowing Americans to buy health insurance.
President Trump and Republicans tried and failed to eliminate the ACA through Congress and have joined lawsuits in federal court challenging its constitutionality. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on those cases on November 10.
The empty chairs of Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee on Thursday were filled with large photos of constituents who would lose access to medicines and care if the ACA is overturned.
Longer-term, Barrett is seen likely to rule in favour of state legislatures’ attempts to curtail women’s access to reproductive care including the right to an abortion enshrined in the 1973 Roe v Wade Supreme Court ruling.