Amy Coney Barrett confirmed to US Supreme Court

27 October 2020, 00:53 | Updated: 27 October 2020, 06:10

By Kate Buck

Donald Trump's pick for the US Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, has been confirmed in a vote by a deeply divided Senate.

Republicans overpowered Democrats to install the President's nominee only days before the election, in a vote that will secure a likely conservative court majority for years to come.

Ms Barrett is 48, and her lifetime appointment as the 115th justice will solidify the court's conservative tilt by 6 to 3.

Only one Republican, Senator Susan Collins, voted against her party in the vote.

She is Trump's third justice - after Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 - and has been confirmed as the country is embroiled in one of the most divisive elections in living memory.

Amy Coney Barrett has been confirmed to the US Supreme Court
Amy Coney Barrett has been confirmed to the US Supreme Court. Picture: PA

"This is a momentous day for America," Mr Trump said at a primetime swearing-in event on the South Lawn at the White House, where Justice Clarence Thomas administered the Constitutional Oath to Ms Barrett before a crowd of about 200 people.

Ms Barrett told those gathered she believes "it is the job of a judge to resist her policy preferences", and vowed: "I will do my job without any fear or favour."

Trump's choice to fill the vacancy of the late liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg potentially opens a new era of rulings on issues including abortion, the Affordable Care Act and even the president's own re-election bid.

Democrats were unable to stop the confirmation of Mr Trump's third justice on the court, as Republicans race to reshape the judiciary.

With no real power to stop the vote, Democrats argued into the night Sunday that the winner of the November 3 election should be the one to choose the nominee to fill the vacancy left by the late Ms Bader Ginsburg.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scoffed at the "apocalyptic" warnings from critics that the judicial branch was becoming mired in partisan politics as he defended its transformation under his watch.

Ms Barrett is 48, and her lifetime appointment as the 115th justice will solidify the court's conservative tilt by 6 to 3
Ms Barrett is 48, and her lifetime appointment as the 115th justice will solidify the court's conservative tilt by 6 to 3. Picture: PA

"This is something to be really proud of and feel good about," the Republican leader said on Sunday during a rare weekend session.

Mr McConnell said that, unlike legislative actions that can be undone by new presidents or politicians, "they won't be able to do much about this for a long time to come".

Democrats argued for weeks that the vote was being improperly rushed and insisted during an all-night Sunday session it should be up to the winner of the November 3 election to name the nominee.

However, Ms Barrett, a federal appeals court judge from Indiana, is expected to be seated swiftly and begin hearing cases soon.

Speaking near midnight on Sunday, Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren called the vote "illegitimate" and "the last gasp of a desperate party".

Several matters are awaiting decision just a week before Election Day, and Ms Barrett could be a decisive vote in Republican appeals of orders extending the deadlines for absentee ballots in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

The vote was confirmed in the Senate this evening
The vote was confirmed in the Senate this evening. Picture: PA

The justices are also weighing Mr Trump's emergency plea for the court to prevent the Manhattan District Attorney from acquiring his tax returns.

And on November 10 the court is expected to hear the Trump-backed challenge to the Obama-era Affordable Care Act.

Just before the Senate vote began, the court sided with Republicans in refusing to extend the deadline for absentee ballots in Wisconsin.

Mr Trump has said he wanted to swiftly install a ninth justice to resolve election disputes and is hopeful the justices will end the health law known as "Obamacare".

During several days of public testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Ms Barrett was careful not to disclose how she would rule on any such cases.

She presented herself as a neutral arbiter and suggested, "It's not the law of Amy". But her writings against abortion and a ruling on "Obamacare" show a deeply conservative thinker.

Republic senator Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, praised the mother of seven as a role model for conservative women, saying: "This is historic."

Republicans focused on her Catholic faith, criticising earlier Democratic questions about her beliefs. Mr Graham called Ms Barrett "unabashedly pro-life."

At the start of Mr Trump's presidency, Mr McConnell engineered a Senate rules change to allow confirmation by a majority of the 100 senators, rather than the 60-vote threshold traditionally needed to advance high court nominees over objections. That was an escalation of a rules change Democrats put in place to advance other court and administrative nominees under President Barack Obama.

Republicans are taking a political plunge by fast-tracking the confirmation just days from the November 3 election with the presidency and their Senate majority at stake.

Only one Republican - Senator Susan Collins, who is in a tight re-election fight in Maine - voted against the nominee, saying: "I do not think it is fair nor consistent to have a Senate confirmation vote prior to the election."

Mr Trump and his Republican allies had hoped for a campaign boost, in much the same way Mr Trump generated excitement among conservatives and evangelical Christians in 2016 over a court vacancy.

That year, Mr McConnell refused to allow the Senate to consider then-President Barack Obama's choice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, arguing the new president should decide.