Updated October 26, 2020 - 6:58 pm
WASHINGTON — Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed and sworn in Monday, becoming the third justice to be placed on the Supreme Court by President Donald Trump and the 115th high court justice in United States history.
She is the fifth woman to serve on the court, and only the second appointed by a Republican president, following Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
Trump celebrated Barrett and her family in a White House ceremony on the South Lawn. The confirmation is an historic achievement to his first term in office that eclipsed even the late President Ronald Reagan who placed three justices on the bench over eight years.
Justice Clarence Thomas presided over the oath to Barrett who declared she would uphold judicial independence.
“I will do my job without any fear or favor,” Barrett said, in following remarks, to applause and the strains of the U.S. Marine Corps band.
Other justices were sworn-in during private or less public ceremonies.
Trump, facing re-election, appeared ecstatic, calling the confirmation a “momentous day in America” and highlighting the first Supreme Court justice to serve with school-aged children.
Earlier Monday, Barrett, 48, was confirmed by the Senate on a 52-48 vote, with only one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, voting against the nominee because of the proximity to the election.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made the closing argument that the Republican president and Senate performed their constitutional duty to nominate and confirm a qualified candidate for the nation’s highest court.
Democrats accused Republicans of rushing to avoid the results of an upcoming election.
“I have two words for McConnell’s speech: very defensive,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Before the vote, Schumer said that Monday would be go down as one of “the darkest days in the 231-year history of the United States Senate.”
Democrats are still smarting from McConnell’s decision to block a hearing or vote on the confirmation of Judge Merrick Garland in 2016, a selection made by President Barack Obama during an election year.
But Republicans brushed off Democratic charges of hypocrisy by noting that in 2016, the president was a Democrat and the Senate held by Republicans; this year, both the Senate and the White House are held by Republicans.
Democrats nonetheless repeated the argument made by Republicans in 2016, that the winner of the presidential election should select the next justice.
“This is the wrong time to be choosing a Supreme Court justice, and Judge Barrett is the wrong candidate for a seat on that court,” said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev.
Following an icon
Barrett was nominated by Trump in September to fill the seat that became vacated by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal icon and champion of women and civil rights.
In her confirmation hearing, Barrett paid homage to Ginsburg and her legacy on the Supreme Court.
Barrett also praised Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative whom she served as a clerk on the Supreme Court. She was confirmed by the Senate in 2017 to serve on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and is a former law professor at Notre Dame.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, called her credentials “impeccable” and said Barrett was deserving of serving on the court.
Barrett will be the third justice placed on the court by Trump, following Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
The conservative judges Trump has selected, vetted by the right-leaning The Federalist Society, will change the composition of the court and give it a solid conservative majority.
That balance will remain for decades, as federal judges serve lifetime appointments, and provide conservatives with a hold on the majority, even as Chief Justice John Roberts has voted with the liberal wing on several cases.
Barrett will take her seat on the bench a week before the presidential election, which could result in legal challenges that could rise to the high court for a ruling. The Trump campaign has challenged mail-in voting in several states, including Nevada.
She also will be in place when a challenge to the Affordable Care Act, brought by Texas and other states, comes before the Supreme Court on Nov. 10.
Democrats have cited her writings critical of Chief Justice Roberts and the Supreme Court in 2012 that upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare.
Republicans have tried repeatedly to repeal Obamacare, the law passed along strict party lines, to expand health-care coverage to most Americans. It also prevented insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions.
“Senate Republicans are scrambling to confirm a new Supreme Court justice in order to tip the balance of the court in favor of their lawsuit aiming to destroy the Affordable Care Act,” said Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., in a floor speech.
Rosen said she opposed the Barrett nomination because “the health care of millions of Nevadans, and of Americans, is in danger.”
Barrett said in her confirmation hearing that the case coming before the Supreme Court involving the ACA was structurally different from the 2012 case, and involved new legislative changes and lower court rulings. She said she would keep an open mind and be a neutral arbiter.
Democrats also said that Barrett, who Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said was the first openly pro-life justice to sit on the court, could rule to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion rights ruling.
Graham called Barrett’s confirmation “a breakthrough for conservative young women.”
Changing her vote
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said earlier this fall she would not vote to confirm a nominee so close to election. But Murkowski announced over the weekend, after a vote with Democrats on a failed filibuster, that she would vote for confirmation citing the gauntlet she has endured.
Asked by reporters whether there was concern about abortion rights, Murkowski said: “I don’t see, I don’t see her overturning the decision in Roe v. Wade, based on the weighting of reliance factors.”
Barrett declined, in her hearing, to answer specific questions about health care, abortion rights, presidential authority on pardons and potential election issues that stem from the 2020 race. She also declined to say whether she would recuse herself from any case involving Trump.
Despite the deep partisan divisions, Republicans had the votes to confirm the nominee and thwart Democratic efforts to block Barrett from being placed on the bench.