Utah Sens. Romney and Lee join GOP parade of praise for Amy Coney Barrett before confirmation vote

(Photo courtesy of Sen. Mitt Romney's office). Sen. Mitt Romney and Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett pose for photos before a meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020.

Before the vote Monday that confirmed Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, Utah Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee joined a parade of Republicans who praised her in Senate speeches — while Democrats blasted her and GOP moves to put her on the bench before Election Day.

Romney said Barrett is needed to restore public faith in government, and to help heal a nation that is growing more divided. Lee said Barrett is an example of a judge who ties herself closely to what the Constitution says, and will not legislate from the bench.

“She is a woman of unquestionable character and integrity, the presence of which is essential to our nation as the confidence of the court itself is in the balance,” Romney said in a Senate speech Monday during the final debate on Barrett.

The Senate confirmed her along a mostly party-line 52-48 vote Monday evening. It came after Democrats complained loudly that Republicans pushed her nomination despite four years ago refusing to consider President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland by contending his nomination came too close to an election.

While Romney used his speech to praise Barrett, he also used it to voice concern about “the division and contempt for others that is growing among many of our citizens” — and how he hopes Barrett might be able to help stop some of it.

“Fortunately, the Supreme Court enjoys a great deal of respect from the American people,” the senator said. “Unfortunately, the third branch may be one of the few institutions of our democratic republic that is not experiencing a collapse in public trust.”

He said churches have been hurt by scandal, trust in law enforcement diminished as some officers hurt those they are sworn to defend, and the news media has been damaged by charges of “fake news” and by what he said is its amplification of division so that people believe bizarre, anonymous conspiracy theories instead of mainstream news reports.

Also, Romney said, “Trust in the FBI and the intelligence community, long admired for their integrity and professionalism, has withered with the attacks by politicians from both parties, though, admittedly, my party has been the more vocal what a message it sends when the president accepts the word of the Russian president rather than the conclusions of our intelligence agencies.”

So, he said, it is essential that the Supreme Court retain the trust of Americans.

“That’s why Judge Barrett’s integrity, wisdom and commitment to the rule of law is so important,” he said. “She will be critical to the preservation of the public’s perception of the legitimacy of the court.”

He noted she has written that “if the court’s opinions change with its membership, public confidence in the court as an institution might decline. Its members might be seen as partisan rather than impartial.”

Romney urged her to follow that philosophy, especially if cases challenging the upcoming election reach the Supreme Court. “In my view, it is of paramount importance that such a decision follow the law and the Constitution where it leads regardless of the outcome, and thereby be beyond reproach, clearly nonpolitical and preferably unanimous,” he said.

The senator added, “I’m confident that she is up to the measure of the times in which we now live.”

Romney also said, “She’s exceptionally intelligent, academically astute and impeccably credentialed. She has a record of sound opinions and temperament as a judge on the 7th Circuit of Appeals. Her life experiences provide her with valuable perspective and evident wisdom.”

Romney is a key reason why Barrett even had a confirmation hearing.

It was made possible when Romney decided to stick with his party leaders, and declined to join a couple other Republicans who said confirmation should wait until after the election.

Romney’s earlier decision provided just enough support — 51 votes — to ensure a vote would be held on Barrett before the election.

Meanwhile, Lee in a Senate speech on Monday compared Barrett’s resolve to stay close to the Constitution to the ancient story about Odysseus resisting the sirens' song by lashing himself to a ship mast and instructing that he not be untied under any circumstance.

“She believes that judges and justices need to tether themselves to the mast of the Constitution,” Lee said. “They need to confine their role to that that involves judging, that they need not to ultimately overtake the role of the elected lawmaker, or the role of the executive.”

He said Republicans are not seeking someone on the court to wage political warfare for conservatives.

“It’s the opposite of that,” Lee said. “We don’t want Judge Barrett on the Supreme Court to be our advocate. We want Judge Barrett on the Supreme Court to decide law, to decide cases based on what the law says, to keep herself tethered to that mast, because it’s through that mast that our rights are protected.”

Lee said Barrett “is an exceptionally well qualified and talented legal mind and jurist. She’s bright, she’s articulate. She’s, as we’ve seen, unflappable.”

He added that she will “uphold and protect and defend that document that I believe was written by wise men, raised up by almighty God to that very purpose. That document, in so far as we’ve followed it, has fostered the development of the greatest civilization the world has ever known.”

Lee is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that held confirmation hearings on Barrett this month. Lee pushed for Barrett’s nomination before President Donald Trump chose her.

The Utah senator contracted COVID-19 shortly after attending Trump’s White House ceremony to announce Barrett’s nomination, as did Trump and many other attendees — although no conclusive proof shows that they contracted it at that event.

Lee declared — with a doctor’s note — that he was symptom-free of COVID-19 and attended Barrett’s confirmation hearing in person to ask her questions and give long monologues supporting her.