Republicans advance Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination over Democratic boycott
(J. Scott Applewhite | AP) Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee hold a news conference after boycotting the vote by the Republican-led panel to advance the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to sit on the Supreme Court, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, in Washington.
• The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to advance President Donald Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court
, with majority Republicans skirting the panel’s rules to recommend her confirmation as Democrats boycotted the session in protest.
The lopsided 12-0 outcome set up a vote by the full Senate to confirm Barrett on Monday, a month to the day after Trump nominated her to fill the seat vacated by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
. If all goes according to plan, Trump and his party would win a coveted achievement just eight days before the election.
“This is why we all run,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chairman of the committee, said just before the vote. “It’s moments like this that make everything you go through matter.”
Barrett, a 48-year-old appeals court judge who has styled herself in the mold of former Justice Antonin Scalia, promises to shift the court meaningfully to the right, entrenching a 6-3 conservative majority. Her presence will likely shape American society for decades to come, with potentially sweeping implications for corporate power and the environment, abortion rights and gay rights, and a wide range of other policy issues including health care access, gun safety and religious freedom.
Democrats, livid over the extraordinarily speedy process, spurned the committee vote altogether and forced Republicans to break their own rules to muscle through the nomination. Without the votes to block the judge in either the committee or the full Senate, though, their action was purely symbolic.
Democrats have sharply opposed Barrett on policy grounds. But their goal Thursday was to tarnish the legitimacy of her confirmation, arguing that Republicans had no right to fill the seat vacated just over a month ago by the death of Ginsburg, when millions of Americans were already voting.
They were particularly angry that Republicans had reversed themselves since 2016, when they refused to consider President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, citing the election nine months later.
“Democrats will not lend a single ounce of legitimacy to this sham vote in the Judiciary Committee,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader, said at a news conference on the steps of the Capitol, where he raised his voice to be heard over the cries of protesters opposed to the nomination.
“We are voting with our feet. We are standing together. And we are standing against this mad rush to jam through a Supreme Court nomination just days, days before an election,” Schumer said.
Inside the hearing room where the vote unfolded, Democrats' empty chairs held large posters of Americans whose health care coverage they argued could evaporate if Trump’s nominee were to side with a conservative majority on the Supreme Court to strike down the Affordable Care Act when it hears a Republican challenge to the law next month.
Republicans proceeded anyway with little hesitation, even though it meant tossing aside Judiciary Committee rules that require members of the minority party be present to conduct official business. Graham decided that broader Senate rules that require only a simple majority of all committee members be present were sufficient. (The committee has taken that approach several times in the past, though never for a Supreme Court nominee.)
“I regret that we could not do it the normal way,” Graham said, “but what I don’t regret is reporting her out of committee.”
If anything, Democrats' absence after a week of heated sparring during Barrett’s confirmation hearings made the proceeding Thursday quieter and faster than it otherwise would have been. It took just 12 minutes after the committee gaveled into session in a cavernous Senate hearing room — with senators and staff seated far apart as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus — to complete the vote.
Republicans dismissed the Democrats' boycott as a childish stunt.
“This is all for show,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. “This is to try to capture a narrative which is simply false and to cover up what they are really about.”
Republicans regard the chance to install Trump’s third Supreme Court justice as perhaps the most significant accomplishment of his presidency. And they hope the elevation of Barrett will galvanize conservative voters before the election.
“She was arguably the most impressive judicial nominee I’ve ever seen in these hearings, and I have been watching them intently since I was a kid,” said Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.
He boasted that Democrats had “failed to lay a glove on Judge Barrett” in her confirmation hearings and argued that contrary to their claims, she would help depoliticize a court that liberals have tried to commandeer to further their policy agenda.
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, has indicated that after the committee’s action, the full Senate would proceed Friday to bring up Barrett’s nomination, with a final vote Monday.
That vote, too, is expected to fall mostly on party lines. At least one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, has said she will join Democrats in opposition. She could be joined by Sen. Lisa Murkowksi, R-Alaska, a proponent of abortion rights, who was opposed to filling the seat so close to the election.
But one by one, the small cadre of moderate Republicans who occasionally break with their party have announced their intention to vote for Barrett. They have argued that comparisons to 2016 are unfair, because then, unlike now, the White House and Senate were controlled by opposing parties.
“She is well-qualified and has said she will decide cases based upon the law, not her personal views,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said Wednesday. “Judge Barrett will be an excellent associate justice of the Supreme Court, and I will vote to confirm her nomination.”
The boycott Thursday was arguably their most drastic step yet, but Democrats have repeatedly turned to dilatory tactics to try to frame the fight, fluster Republicans and show liberals they were doing all they could to push back on Barrett’s nomination. Schumer tried repeatedly this week to shut down the Senate chamber altogether until after the election, forcing Republicans to undergo lengthy roll call votes to block him. Earlier, he had exploited parliamentary tactics to block committees from conducting regular meetings.
Democrats had briefly discussed boycotting Barrett’s confirmation hearings last week, but they decided against giving up their only chance to publicly and directly question the nominee about her legal philosophy and record. But now, with confirmation all but preordained, they reasoned a boycott would show the party’s progressive base they had fought until the end.