GOP-led Senate panel advances Barrett despite Dems' boycott
Washington — Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans powered past a Democratic boycott Thursday to advance Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court nomination to the full Senate, keeping President Donald Trump's pick on track for confirmation before Election Day.
Democratic senators refused to show up in protest of the GOP's rush to install Trump's nominee to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Never has the Senate confirmed a Supreme Court nominee so close to a presidential election.
All 12 Republicans on the panel voted in favor of Barrett, a conservative judge. The no-show Democrats displayed posters at their desks of Americans they say have benefited from the Affordable Care Act now being challenged in court. Senators plan to convene a rare weekend session ahead of a final confirmation vote expected Monday.
“Big day for America,” Trump tweeted after the vote.
The 48-year-old federal judge’s ascent to the high court would lock a 6-3 conservative majority on the court for the foreseeable future. That could open a new era of rulings on the Affordable Care Act, abortion access and even the results of the presidential election.
Protesters, some shouting “Stop the confirmation!” demonstrated loudly outside the Capitol across the street from the Supreme Court. Some demonstrators were dressed as handmaids, evoking “The Handmaid's Tale” and a reference to Barrett’s role in a conservative religious group that once called high-ranking women members “handmaids.” Other demonstrators had “#SupportAmy” signs.
The protesters drowned out Democratic senators who called a news conference to decry what they called a “sham” confirmation process.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said the Senate Republican majority “is conducting the most rushed, most partisan and the least legitimate nomination to the Supreme Court in our nation's history.”
“Democrats will not lend a single ounce of legitimacy to this sham vote,” he said.
With Republicans holding a 53-47 majority in the Senate, Trump’s pick for the court is almost certain to be confirmed. All Democrats are expected to oppose Barrett’s confirmation.
“This is a groundbreaking, historic moment,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the committee chairman. “We did it.”
Unable to stop the confirmation, Democrats have been trying unsuccessfully to stall the process until after the Nov. 3 election, so the winner of the presidency could name the new nominee.
Boycotting Thursday's Judiciary panel session forced Republicans on the panel to adjust rules that require at least two members of the minority party, Democrats, to be present to constitute a quorum. Republicans said the committee was well within its normal practice to hold the vote, but Democrats countered that never before have the rules been brushed past for a Supreme Court confirmation.
Barrett, an appellate court judge from Indiana, appeared for three days before the panel last week, batting back Democrats' questions. She was asked about her approach to legal questions surrounding abortion access, gay marriage and the nation's tradition of a peaceful transfer of presidential power.
Trump has said he wants a judge seated in time to hear any potential disputes arising from the Nov. 3 election, and Barrett declined to say if she would recuse herself from such cases.
The court is set to hear a challenge to the health care law on Nov. 10, one week after the presidential election, and Trump has said he wants a justice who won’t rule as others have to uphold the Obama-era Affordable Care Act.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said the court fight will be perhaps the “single most important accomplishment” of Trump’s presidency.
Republican senators ridiculed the Democratic boycott as election-year antics. Graham said he did regret the process, but couldn’t allow Barrett’s nomination to falter.
“Rather than show up and do their job, they continue the theater,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, pointing out the posters at the senators’ desks. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, called the boycott “a walkout on the American people.”
But Democrats on the committee insisted the Republicans were rushing the nomination to tip the court's 5-4 conservative majority even further to the right.
Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, called Barrett a “clear and present danger” to the values Ginsburg fought for on the court.
“I stand here for Justice Ginsburg,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., urging Americans to vote their protests at the ballot box.
Many judicial nominees decline to discuss their views on various issues, saying they will consider the cases as they come. Barrett took a similar approach, drawing deep skepticism from Democrats because she had previously spoken out against abortion and past rulings on the Affordable Care Act.
Barrett released dozens of answers this week to additional questions senators had posed, but her responses were similar as she declined to weigh in on whether the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion ruling is a so-called “super precedent” of the court or whether the president could unilaterally change the date set in law for the election.
Senate Majority Leader McConnell has defended Barrett as “exceptionally qualified” as well as his own decision to push her nomination forward, even after he refused to consider Barack Obama’s nominee in February 2016 saying it was too close to a presidential election, with Obama in his second and final term.
On Wednesday, McConnell criticized a story from The Associated Press that delved into Barrett’s role on the board of trustees of a Christian school with anti-gay policies toward student families and staff.
McConnell noted that Barrett had already disclosed her work with the school to the Senate and “has taken the same oath of impartiality as every other federal judge, and has affirmed over and over that her legal judgment is independent from her private opinions.”
Republicans have focused on Barrett's Catholic faith, calling her a role model for conservative and religious women.