Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee moved Thursday to advance the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court, bringing President Trump’s nominee within striking distance of confirmation and the court a step closer to a 6-3 conservative majority.
Democrats boycotted the vote, pointing to what they called the damage Barrett would do to “health care, reproductive freedoms, the ability to vote, and other core rights that Americans cherish,” and the fact the vote took place even as voting was underway in the presidential election.
The vote of 12 yeas and 10 abstentions followed a day of acrimony in which Democrats sought to deny Republicans a quorum to conduct the vote.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., rejected the assertion that at least two minority members were needed to proceed with the nomination.
“I will move forward,” he said Wednesday evening. “She deserves a vote.”
GOP members of the judiciary committee cited Barrett’s credentials and conservative bona fides, which include three years on the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and her history as a well-respected law professor at the University of Notre Dame, in pushing for her nomination to the court.
The committee’s vote marked a key milestone for Barrett ahead of her expected approval by the Republican-controlled Senate, which plans to vote in full on her confirmation on Monday. If approved by the Senate, Barrett’s confirmation would represent one of the fastest in the court’s history — just 30 days from the time the president announced her nomination to Monday’s expected vote.
Trump’s nomination of Barrett following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September led to questions about the propriety of a president nominating a justice to the court during an election year.
When Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly in 2016, Republicans successfully blocked then-President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the court, citing the proximity to the election.
Scalia’s death came some nine months before that year’s election. Ginsburg died with less than two months until the close of voting in the 2020 race.
Republicans have argued that the difference between then and now is that in 2016, the White House and the Senate were held by different parties, while today the GOP controls both branches. Republicans say that represents a clear mandate from voters to make election-year decisions about the court, despite polling that shows the party facing an uphill battle both in holding on to the White House and maintaining control of the Senate.
“This has been a sham process from the beginning,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said ahead of Thursday’s vote. “Fearing a loss at the ballot box, Republicans are showing that they do not care about the rules or what the American people want, but are concerned only with raw political power.”
Voters appear closely divided on Barrett’s confirmation. A Politico/Morning Consult poll released Wednesday found that a razor-thin majority — 51% — of voters approve of the Senate approving the judge’s nomination.
If confirmed, Barrett would be Trump’s third appointment to the court, cementing a 6-3 conservative majority on the bench. In the short term, her vote could prove decisive in the next several weeks as the court prepares to hear a pivotal case about the future of the Affordable Care Act and braces for the possibility of being called on to settle legal disputes that arise from the election. Longer term, Barrett could steer the court in a decidedly more conservative direction on everything from gun rights, religious freedom and the future of Roe v. Wade.
With the political makeup of the court leaning further to the right, Democrats have recently begun floating the idea of expanding the number of justices on the traditionally nine-body bench — an effort that Republicans have derided as court packing.
Democratic nominee Joe Biden has avoided providing a definitive answer on whether he supports expanding the number of justices on the court but has recently said he is “not a fan” of the idea.
In an excerpt from an interview on CBS’ 60 Minutes, Biden said if elected, he will “put together a national commission — a bipartisan commission” and ask it to report back to him in 180 days “with recommendations as to how to reform the court system,” because he says it’s gotten out of whack.” “It’s not about court packing,” Biden said.
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