WASHINGTON — Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to the Supreme Court late Monday by a deeply divided Senate with all Republicans except Susan Collins of Maine overpowering Democrats to secure a conservative majority just eight days before the election.
Trump’s choice to fill the vacancy of the late liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg potentially opens a new era of rulings on abortion, the Affordable Care Act and his own election. She is Trump’s third justice on the court in less than four year as Republicans raced to reshape the judiciary in what could be the final days of Trump’s term as he trails Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
Barrett is 48, and her lifetime appointment as the 115th justice will solidify the court’s rightward tilt. Monday’s 52-48 vote was the closest high court confirmation ever to a presidential election, and the first in modern times with no support from the minority party.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said during a rare weekend session Sunday ahead of voting. He scoffed at the “apocalyptic” warnings from critics that the judicial branch was becoming mired in partisan politics and declared that “they won’t be able to do much about this for a long time to come.”
“This is something to be really proud of and feel good about,” he said.
Democrats argued for weeks that the vote was being rushed and insisted during an all-night Sunday session it should be up to the winner of the Nov. 3 election to name the nominee after McConnell refused to allow the Senate to consider then-President Barack Obama’s final choice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016, arguing the new president should decide.
Collins reflected that argument, telling The New York Times before Ginsburg’s death that no new justice should be seated before the Nov. 3 election and that whoever is elected then should make the nomination. She was one of two Republicans alongside Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski to oppose the process, but Murkowski is facing re-election in 2022 and voted for Barrett.
“What I have concentrated on is being fair and consistent, and I do not think it is fair nor consistent to have a Senate confirmation vote prior to the election,” Collins said in a Sunday statement.
However, the Maine senator’s party brushed her concerns aside as she is facing the fight of her political fight in a reelection bid with House Speaker Sara Gideon, a Democrat who has led the incumbent in polling throughout 2020. Their race kicked off in earnest after Collins voted in 2018 for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Several matters are awaiting high court decisions just a week before Election Day, and Barrett could be a decisive vote in Republican appeals of orders extending the deadlines for absentee ballots in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. On Nov. 10, the court is expected to hear the Trump-backed challenge to the Affordable Care Act. Trump has said he wanted to swiftly install a ninth justice to resolve election disputes.
During several days of public testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, 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 show a deeply conservative thinker. The judge signed onto a newspaper ad in 2006 that advocated for the end of the high court decision allowing a right to abortion and said a conservative Supreme Court would likely further restrict abortion in 2013. Barrett is the first high court justice that Collins has ever voted against. A rare pro-abortion rights Republican, the Maine senator voted to seat Barrett on a lower court in 2017.
In a Monday statement, Gideon called Collins’ vote “nothing more than a political calculation.” Collins campaign spokesperson Annie Clark shot back by hitting Gideon for the Maine Legislature’s March adjournment and noted the senator held “the exact same position” prior to Ginsburg’s death.
While Gideon has made her campaign largely about the judiciary and partisan control of the Senate, she has not embraced progressive calls for Biden and a Democratic-led Senate to increase the number of justices on the high court if they prevail in the 2020 election.
She said in a recent debate she would support reinstating a 60-vote threshold for judicial nominees. At the start of Trump’s presidency, McConnell engineered a Senate rules change to allow confirmation by a majority of senators, rather than the 60-vote threshold traditionally needed to advance high court nominees over objections in an escalation of rules change Democrats put in place to advance other court and administrative nominees under Obama.
Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats and opposed Barrett, angrily reacted to Senate Republicans’ sidestepping of chamber rules to advance the nod in a Sunday floor speech, edging close to an endorsement of increasing the size of the court.
“I don’t want to pack the court. I don’t want to change the number,” he said. “I don’t want to have to do that, but if all of this rule-breaking is taking place, what does the majority expect?”
Trump and his Republican allies had hoped for a campaign boost, in much the way Trump generated excitement among conservatives and evangelical Christians in 2016 over a court vacancy. But it’s not clear the extraordinary effort to install the new justice over such opposition in a heated election year will pay political rewards to the GOP.
The president has criticized Collins for her stance, but it may be a wash in the Maine race. In a Bangor Daily News poll released in early October, 52 percent of voters said the stance made no difference in how they considered Collins, with 21 percent saying it made them more likely to vote for her and another 21 percent saying it made them less likely.
Story by Lisa Mascaro, The Associated Press. BDN writer Michael Shepherd and Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick, Andrew Taylor, Mark Sherman, Zeke Miller and Aamer Madhani in Washington and Kathleen Ronayne contributed to this report.