United States President Donald Trump has nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, the president said Saturday, in a highly anticipated announcement that sets up a political showdown between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate.
Barrett, 48, is a constitutional scholar and conservative jurist who Trump named to the federal appeals bench in 2017.
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Her nomination comes just over a week after the death of longtime Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a staunch liberal, on September 18.
“Today it is my honour to nominate one of our nation’s most brilliant and gifted legal minds to the Supreme Court,” Trump said at a Rose Garden event that was attended by Barrett, her husband and their seven children.
“She is a woman of unparalleled achievement, towering intellect, sterling credentials and unyielding loyalty to the [US] Constitution, Judge Amy Coney Barrett.”
The president then thanked Republican senators for their “commitment and to providing a fair and timely hearing”.
Republican Senate leadership has vowed to move ahead with a confirmation vote before the November 3 presidential election. Democrats, meanwhile, have said whoever wins the election should pick the next justice.
“[It] should be a straightforward and prompt confirmation … It’s going to be very quick. I’m sure it’ll be extremely non-controversial,” Trump said about the process.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) September 26, 2020
Republicans have a 53-47 majority in the Senate, and with only two Republican senators opposing moving forward with the confirmation before the election, Democrats are expected to have little power to block the appointment.
If Barrett is confirmed, the party will swing the nine-member Supreme Court to a 6-3 conservative majority, likely shaping the US legal landscape for decades.
Later on Saturday, Trump said the Senate will likely open hearings on Barrett’s nomination on October 12, and he expected a full Senate vote before the November 3 election.
“It’s going to go fast. We’re looking to do it before the election. So it’s going to go very fast,” he said.
Barrett is expected to begin on Tuesday the traditional courtesy calls to individual senators, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell up first.
If confirmed, Barrett would also become the youngest justice on the court and the first mother with school-aged children to serve as a justice, Trump noted.
A law professor at the University of Notre Dame before her appointment to the federal judgeship in 2017, Barrett has conservative bona fides that are expected to energise the Republican base on social issues such as gun rights, abortion, and religion.
Democrats have also warned that should Barrett be appointed to the Supreme Court bench, former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act may be repealed.
— Senator Ted Cruz (@SenTedCruz) September 26, 2020
“My fellow Americans, the president has nominated me to serve on the United States Supreme Court and that institution belongs to all of us,” Barrett said at the event. “If confirmed, I would not assume that role for the sake of those in my own circle, and certainly not for my own sake, I would assume this role to serve you.
“I have no illusions that the road ahead of me will be easy, either for the short term, or the long haul,” she added.
Barrett attended Notre Dame Law School and then clerked for conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia from 1998 to 1999.
On Saturday, Barrett said she and Scalia share the same “judicial philosophy”.
“Judges must apply the law as written. Judges are not policymakers,” she said.
‘Stakes are incredibly high’
During his remarks, Trump noted the significance of the potentially court-shifting nomination, his third since taking office.
“The stakes for our country are incredibly high,” he said. “Rulings that the Supreme Court will issue in the coming years will decide the survival of our Second Amendment, our religious liberty, public safety and so much more.”
Barrett’s past writings and rulings indicate how she may rule on some of those defining issues.
Today, President Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court — a jurist with a written track record of disagreeing with the Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act.
Vote like your health care is on the ballot — because it is. https://t.co/TDBQOVLP4K
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) September 26, 2020
In 2017, she criticised conservative Chief Justice John Roberts’ vote to uphold a key component of the Affordable Care Act, arguing that he pushed the act “beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute” when it came to a fee required of those who choose to not have health insurance.
She wrote a dissenting opinion last year against a federal law that bars felons, including those who did not commit violent crimes, from owning guns.
Barrett also argued in another dissenting opinion in favour of Trump administration rules that make it more difficult for people who are likely to rely on public benefits to attain a green card.
Amy Coney Barrett will work to gut Roe v. Wade and the ACA, taking away health care coverage from millions of Americans—including those with pre-existing conditions. And make no mistake: Trump is counting on her to swing the Supreme Court in his favor when he loses this election. pic.twitter.com/cTpOHgintZ
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) September 26, 2020
While Barrett’s stance on abortion rights remains more opaque, many anti-abortion organisations see her as a top pick for overturning Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that federally guarantees the right to abortion access without excessive governmental barriers.
Barrett largely sidestepped questions about the topic in her 2017 Senate confirmation hearing and has maintained that her devout Catholic faith would not inform her interpretation of the law.
Reporting from Washington, DC, Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett said, Barrett “in many ways … is a polar opposite” of Justice Ginsburg, especially on abortion rights. Ginsburg was a champion of women’s rights and a staunch liberal.
“That is why many are concerned, given that [Barrett] has a background that is deeply religious. Many are fearful that this could in some way affect her decisions, something she has denied repeatedly,” Halkett said.