Updated September 26, 2020 - 7:45 pm
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Saturday nominated Amy Coney Barrett, a judge on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, to succeed the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on a fast-track schedule he hopes to end with confirmation before the Nov. 3 election.
It was a moment of triumph as Trump and Barrett stepped from the Oval Office to a Rose Garden packed with well-wishers and Washington’s conservative elites. Trump addressed all seven of Barrett’s children before he thanked them for “sharing your incredible mom with our country.”
Trump also said he expected a “very quick” confirmation vote for his third Supreme Court nomination after Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
The president lauded Barrett as “a woman of unparalleled achievement, towering intellect, sterling credentials and unyielding loyalty to the Constitution” after he praised Ginsburg as “a legal giant and a pioneer for women.”
In the same spirit, Barrett pledged that if confirmed, she will be “mindful of who came before me” in a reference to Ginsburg’s role as a trailblazer who smashed glass ceilings.
In an homage of sorts to Ginsburg, a liberal icon who had been dubbed “The Notorious RBG,” conservative activists wasted no time in hailing Barrett as “ACB.” As she signaled her recognition of the weight of the moment, Barrett recalled the storied friendship of the late Justice Antonin Scalia and Ginsburg as proof that “arguments, even about great consequence, need not destroy affection.”
In conservative circles, Barrett, a graduate and law professor at Notre Dame School of Law, is considered by some to be a female version of Scalia, an advocate for an originalist interpretation of the Constitution, for whom she served as a law clerk.
Shortly after the event, former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for president, issued a statement that criticized Barrett’s “written track record of disagreeing with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision upholding the Affordable Care Act” — a key issue in the presidential election.
“The American people know the U.S. Supreme Court decisions affect their everyday lives. The United States Constitution was designed to give the voters one chance to have their voice heard on who serves on the Court. That moment is now and their voice should be heard,” Biden’s statement continued. “The Senate should not act on this vacancy until after the American people select their next president and the next Congress.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi picked up the same theme as she charged, “Every vote to confirm this nominee is a vote to dismantle health care. The American people will hold every Senator responsible for their vote at the ballot box.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican and member of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, reacted to the nomination while campaigning in Las Vegas‘ for Republican congressional challengers Dan Rodimer and Jim Marchant.
Cruz praised Barrett as an “excellent nominee” who is “one of the most respected federal appellate judges in the country.”
Cruz said the Judiciary Committee will begin hearings on Barrett in the next few weeks. “I’m confident the Senate Judiciary Committee will confirm Judge Barrett as Justice Barrett before election day,” he said.
On his way to a rally in Pennsylvania later in the evening, Trump told reporters it would be “very, very hard” for Democrats to give Barrett a tough time because of her qualifications.
Hearings to start Oct. 12
If confirmed by a Senate in which the GOP controls 53 seats, Barrett is sure to push the U.S. Supreme Court further to the right, with a 6-3 split between Republican and Democrats. The court had included five justices nominated by Republican presidents and four nominated by Democrats, with Chief Justice John Roberts occasionally providing a swing vote that favored liberal justices.
For that reason, legal observers expect fireworks before and during Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings, expected to start on Oct. 12, less than one month before the presidential election.
Earlier Saturday, Barrett and her husband, Jesse Barrett, a former federal prosecutor and fellow Notre Dame graduate, loaded their seven children into separate minivans and drove from their Indiana home to the airport.
It was a photo opportunity that suggested that Barrett might bring a younger, more Midwestern sensibility to a body of eight graduates of Harvard or Yale Law School.
After Trump nominated Barrett to the appellate slot in 2017, the Senate confirmed her 55-43.
An exchange with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., during her confirmation hearing “catapulted” the Catholic mother of seven “to national prominence,” said Carrie Severino, president of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network.
“The dogma lives loudly within you, and that is a concern,” Feinstein told Barrett in an exchange that raised hackles among social conservatives, who like Severino believe Barrett was being targeted for her Catholicism.
If Senate Democrats seem to lean on Barrett because of her deeply held beliefs, Severino warned, “this is going to be election fodder.”
Both the campaigns of Biden, who is Catholic, and Trump, a Presbyterian, are jockeying for a greater share of the Catholic vote, which is evenly split according to the Pew Research Center. In 2016, 52 percent of Catholics voted for Trump while 44 percent voted for Hillary Clinton.
Dispute over precedent
“My Republican colleagues should honor their own precedent on this process — the McConnell Rule — and ensure that the American people have their say at the ballot box before the Senate considers a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court that will determine the future of access to quality, affordable health care in the United States,” Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., reacted in a statement.
After Scalia died in March 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put off hearings for Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s pick to fill Scalia’s seat, saying that it would be best to let voters have a say in the November presidential election. McConnell has said that in 2016, there was a divided government with a Democratic president and a Republican Senate. This year, the executive and the Senate are both controlled by Republicans.
A Washington Post ABC News poll released Friday found that 38 percent of respondents thought Ginsburg’s replacement should be nominated by Trump and approved by the Senate, while 57 percent supported leaving the nomination to the winner of the presidential race.
“Barrett is as conservative as any federal judge in the United States. But the Republicans almost certainly have the votes to confirm her,” Erwin Cherminsky, dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law, told the Review-Journal.
Asked if he considered Barrett to be qualified, he responded, “If qualified is based on academic degrees and legal experience, yes. If qualified looks at ideology, she is far outside the mainstream. She really is as conservative as any federal judge in the country.”
Another Berkeley law professor, John Yoo, told the Review-Journal that he believes opponents of Barrett’s nomination are “going to try to use her Catholic faith as a proxy to insinuate that she’s against abortion rights.” That, he said, “would be would be playing right into Donald Trump’s hands.”