Republicans schedule vote to approve Amy Coney Barrett's nomination before the Nov. 3 election
If all goes as scheduled, the final vote will happen the week of Oct. 26
The U.S. Senate judiciary committee has scheduled a vote to approve Judge Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the Supreme Court — before her confirmation hearings have even ended.
Senate judiciary committee chair Lindsey Graham scheduled a committee vote for 9 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 15, the morning of the last day of hearings. Barrett's nomination is expected to be brought up for a vote at that meeting and then delayed for a week, per committee rules.
If that happens as expected, the GOP-led committee would then vote to approve her nomination on Thursday, Oct. 22. That would set up a final confirmation vote on the Senate floor the week of Oct. 26.
Republicans are moving quickly to confirm Barrett before the U.S. presidential election Nov. 3. Unless circumstances change, Republicans are expected to have the votes to approve the nomination in committee and for final confirmation on the floor.
Earlier, on the first day of the hearings, Coney Barrett declared that Americans "deserve an independent Supreme Court that interprets our Constitution and laws as they are written," encapsulating her conservative approach to the law that has Republicans excited about the prospect of her taking the place of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg before election day.
Barrett spoke about her judicial philosophy, her experience and her large family during the fast-tracked confirmation hearings as Senate Democrats tried to brand her a threat to Americans' health care during the coronavirus pandemic.
After sitting in silence through nearly four hours of opening statements from members of the Senate judiciary committee, the 48-year-old federal appeals court judge laid out her approach to the bench, which she has likened to that of her conservative mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
"Courts have a vital responsibility to the rule of law, which is critical to a free society. But courts are not designed to solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life," Barrett said in a statement she delivered after removing the protective mask she wore for most of the day.
WATCH | Amy Coney Barrett's opening statement:
"The policy decisions and value judgments of government must be made by the political branches elected by and accountable to the people. The public should not expect courts to do so, and courts should not try."
She told senators that she is "forever grateful" for Ginsburg's trailblazing path as a woman on the court.
Health care at stake, Democrats say
Yet Sen. Kamala Harris, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's running mate, said the court is "often the last refuge for equal justice," and a Barrett nomination puts in jeopardy everything Ginsburg fought to protect.
Testifying from her office because of the pandemic, Harris said that not only health care but voting rights, workers' rights, abortion rights and the very idea of justice are at stake.
WATCH | Kamala Harris says Barrett nomination threatens health care:
Republicans called Barrett a thoughtful judge with impeccable credentials.
If she is confirmed quickly, she could be on the Supreme Court when it hears the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act a week after the election.
One after another, Democrats sought to tie her nomination to the upcoming court case.
"Health care coverage for millions of Americans is at stake with this nomination," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee's senior Democrat.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, of Rhode Island, said the nomination is a "judicial torpedo aimed" at the law's protection for people with pre-existing health conditions among its provisions.
The Trump administration wants the court to strike down the entire law popularly known as "Obamacare" on Nov. 10, and has provided no alternative plan for coverage of pre-existing conditions. Barrett has criticized the court's two earlier major rulings supporting the law.
Among Republicans, Sen. Chuck Grassley, of Iowa, dismissed warnings Barrett will undo the Obama-era health care law as "outrageous."
Republicans warn against 'religious bigotry'
Trump himself seemed to be watching, tweeting several times about the hearing. In one message, he tweeted that he'd have a "FAR BETTER" health care plan, with lower costs and protections for pre-existing conditions. But he has not, as yet, discussed an actual health care plan.
Republicans also warned against making Barrett's Catholicism an issue in the confirmation debate, especially in regard to her stance on abortion.
WATCH | Legal expert on 'most contentious battle ever' over Trump's SCOTUS pick:
However, Democratic senators made clear in advance of the hearing that they didn't plan to question the judge on the specifics of her religious faith.
Biden, also a practising Catholic, told reporters ahead of a campaign trip to Ohio that he doesn't think "there's any question about her faith."
Barrett's religious views and past leadership role in a Catholic faith community pose a challenge for Democrats as they try to probe her judicial approach to abortion, gay marriage and other social issues without veering into inappropriate questions of her faith.
Hearings altered by pandemic
The Senate judiciary committee, meeting on a federal holiday, kicked off four days of statements and testimony in an environment that has been altered by the coronavirus pandemic. Some senators are taking part remotely, and the hearing room itself has been arranged with public health concerns in mind.
Committee chairman South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham opened the hearing acknowledging "the COVID problem in America is real." But he said, "We do have a country that needs to move forward safely."
Graham acknowledged the obvious: "This is going to be a long, contentious week."
Protesters rallied outside the Senate buildings with the hearing room largely closed to the public. Capitol Police said 22 people were arrested and charged on suspicion of crowding, obstructing or other violations.
Criticism over timing
Republicans are moving at a breakneck pace to seat Barrett before the Nov. 3 election to secure Trump's pick, which would put her on the bench for any election-related challenges.
Democrats are trying in vain to delay the fast-track confirmation by raising fresh concerns about the safety of meeting during the pandemic after two Republican senators on the panel tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Sen. Mike Lee, of Utah, one of those who tested positive, was in the hearing room Monday after his spokesperson said he was symptom-free. The other affected senator, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, was participating remotely, though he too is symptom-free, his spokesperson said. Both tested positive 10 days ago.
Trump chose Barrett after the death last month of Ginsburg, a liberal icon. It's the opportunity to entrench a conservative majority on the court for years to come with his third justice.
Outside groups are pushing Democrats to make a strong case against what they call an illegitimate confirmation, when people are already voting in some states, saying the winner of the presidency should make the pick. No Supreme Court justice has ever been confirmed so close to a presidential contest.
"The public is with them that this shouldn't happen before the election," said Brian Fallon, executive director of Demand Justice, which advocates against right-leaning nominees.
A closer look at Barrett
The country will get an extended look at Barrett over the next three days in hearings like none other during the heated election environment and the pandemic limiting public access.
Faith and family punctuate her testimony, and she said would bring "a few new perspectives" as the first mother of school-age children on the nine-member court.
WATCH | Trump formally nominates Barrett for U.S. Supreme Court seat:
Barrett said she uses her children as a test when deciding cases, asking herself how she would view the decision if one of her children were the party she was ruling against.
"Even though I would not like the result, would I understand that the decision was fairly reasoned and grounded in the law?" she said in her prepared remarks.
A Catholic, she said she believes in the "power of prayer." Barrett's religious views and past leadership role in a Catholic faith community pose a challenge for Democrats as they try to probe her judicial approach to abortion, gay marriage and other social issues without veering into inappropriate questions of her faith.
Nomination announcement labelled a 'superspreader'
Ordinarily, Barrett would get to show off her family and seven children. But the White House event announcing her nomination, in which most of the audience did not wear masks, has been labelled a "superspreader" for the coronavirus.
More than two dozen people linked to the Sept. 26 Rose Garden event, including Lee and Tillis, have contracted COVID-19 since then. Barrett and her family went maskless at the event.
She and her husband, Jesse, tested positive for the virus earlier this year and recovered, two administration officials have said.
Democrats already were enraged that Republicans are moving so quickly, having refused to consider then-president Barack Obama's nominee in February 2016, well before that year's election.