CHICAGO (CBS/AP) — President Donald Trump has picked federal appeals court Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court seat vacated by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“She is a woman of unparalleled achievement, towering intellect, sterling credentials, and unyielding loyalty to the Constitution,” Mr. Trump said during his announcement. Mr. Trump praised Barrett and her legal record, telling her, “I looked and I studied and you are very eminently qualified for this job.”
Mr. Trump also noted that Barrett, if confirmed, would be the first mother of school-aged children to serve on the court, praising her as a “profoundly devoted mother.”
Barrett is 48 and has seven children, including two adopted from Haiti and a son with Down syndrome.She would be the fifth woman to serve on the high court.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) September 26, 2020
In brief remarks, Barrett honored Ginsburg’s memory, and highlighted Ginsburg’s friendship with the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Barrett clerked with Scalia before becoming a law professor.
“I fully understand that this is a momentous decision for a president, and if the Senate does me the honor of confirming me, I pledge to discharge the responsibilities of this job to the very best of my ability,” Barrett said. “I love the United States and I love the United States Constitution. I am truly humbled by the prospect of serving on the Supreme Court.”
Barrett also said that she would be committed to working on behalf of the people if confirmed to the court.
“I would not assume that role for the sake of those in my own circle and certainly not for my own sake. I would assume this role to serve you,” Barrett said.
Barrett, a judge on the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and a devout Roman Catholic, has been hailed by religious conservatives and others on the right as an ideological heir to conservative icon Antonin Scalia, the late Supreme Court justice for whom she clerked.
But liberals say her legal views are too heavily influenced by her religious beliefs and fear her ascent to the nation’s highest court could lead to a scaling back of hard-fought abortion rights.
The president’s announcement leaves the the Republican-controlled Senate little time if they opt to confirm Barrett’s nomination ahead of Election Day.
The pick caps a dramatic reshaping of the federal judiciary that will resonate for a generation and that he hopes will provide a needed boost to his reelection effort.
Republican senators are already lining up for a swift confirmation of Barrett ahead of the Nov. 3 election, as they aim to lock in conservative gains in the federal judiciary before a potential transition of power. Trump, meanwhile, is hoping the nomination will serve to galvanize his supporters as he looks to fend off Democrat Joe Biden.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the Senate will vote on Mr. Trump’s nominee, four years after he blocked President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court because the vacancy occurred in an election year. There were only eight justices on the court for over a year after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, until Justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed in 2017.
In a statement on Saturday, McConnell said that the Senate “will evaluate this nomination on the basis of Judge Barrett’s objective qualifications.”
“The Court, the Senate, and the American people — not to mention the nominee and her family — deserve a fair process that is focused on Judge Barrett’s qualifications. I hope all 100 Senators will treat this serious process with the dignity and respect it should command,” McConnell said.
Mr. Trump alluded to the confirmation process in his announcement on Saturday, saying that he expected it to be a “quick” process.
“This should be a straightforward and prompt confirmation,” Mr. Trump said. He also appeared to refer to the confirmation process for Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual misconduct ahead of his confirmation.
“I’m sure it will be extremely non-controversial. We said that the last time, didn’t we?” Mr. Trump said.
Illinois’ U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth were quick to condemn Republicans for changing their stance on filling a Supreme Court vacancy in an election year, and vowing to move forward with confirming his nominee before the election.
“We are 38 days from Election Day. And we are 45 days from the Supreme Court taking up the case that will decide whether the Affordable Care Act will survive. President Trump and Majority Leader McConnell want to rush Judge Barrett’s nomination through the Senate before those two dates arrive,” Durbin said in a statement. “It is clear why Republicans have reversed their position from 2016 about giving the American people ‘a voice’ in filling an election year vacancy. They want another vote on the Supreme Court for their lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act—eliminating health insurance for millions, ending protections for people with pre-existing conditions, and raising costs for millions more—in the middle of a pandemic.”
“John McCain stopped Republicans from repealing the Affordable Care Act on the Senate floor. Now they are trying to accomplish in the Supreme Court what they could not accomplish in Congress. That’s why President Trump made clear he would only put forward a nominee who would overturn the Affordable Care Act,” he added. “What’s at stake with this nomination is the fate of affordable, quality health care and pre-existing conditions protections for millions of Americans.”
Duckworth called the nomination “a transparent grab for power.”
“The stakes could not be higher: if Republicans insist on confirming Judge Barrett, the Court could roll back women’s reproductive rights, greenlight more dark money in politics, jeopardize voting rights and civil rights for Black and brown communities and knock down any progress on climate action,” Duckworth said in a statement. “I voted against confirming Amy Coney Barrett to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit because she failed to demonstrate the capability or willingness to serve as an impartial, fair and independent jurist. Judge Barrett was not fit to be a Circuit Judge in 2017 and she is the wrong choice for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court today. Once again, she will not have my support.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee must hold confirmation hearings with Barrett ahead of the confirmation vote by the full Senate. Although senators typically go home to campaign for reelection in October, two sources familiar with the schedule told CBS News that the committee will hold hearings that month. The tentative plan is to hear opening statements on October 12, have senators question the nominee on October 13 and 14, and hear from outside witnesses on October 15.
If confirmed, Barrett will be the third justice nominated by Mr. Trump appointed to the Supreme Court. It would also expand the conservative majority on the court, widening it to 6 to 3.
The confirmation of another conservative justice could potentially benefit the president in his reelection efforts. The results of the election may not be clear on the night of November 3, raising concerns that the country could see another situation where the election is essentially determined by the Supreme Court. The coronavirus pandemic is expected to lead to a significant uptick in mail-in voting, and there are currently several election-related cases pending in state and federal courts.
Mr. Trump has said he wants the seat filled ahead of the election in case the court needs to rule on an election-related case.
“I think this will end up in the Supreme Court, and I think it’s very important that we have nine justices,” Mr. Trump told reporters last week. “I think we should go very quickly.”
The court is also set to hear critical cases on the Affordable Care Act and on grand jury material from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation later this fall.
Democrats have rankled at what they see as hypocrisy from Republicans, although McConnell argues that the situation is different because the Republican Party now controls both the Senate and the White House. Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski have both said they oppose holding a confirmation vote ahead of the election. However, even if Collins and Murkowski both voted against confirming the nominee, she would still be confirmed by a slim 51-vote majority, as all other Republicans have expressed support for filling the other seats.
Fury over the turnaround from Republicans on confirming a justice in an election year has led some Democrats to ponder options that recently were considered fringe ideas, most notably adding seats to the Supreme Court. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told members of his conference that “nothing is off the table” if Democrats retake the Senate, indicating that he is willing to consider expanding the court.
An ideological heir to the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, Barrett would fill the seat vacated after the Sept. 18 death of liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsberg, in what would be the sharpest ideological swing since Clarence Thomas replaced Justice Thurgood Marshall nearly three decades ago. She would be the sixth justice on the nine-member court to be appointed by a Republican president, and the third of Trump’s first term in office.
For Trump, whose 2016 victory hinged in large part on reluctant support from conservative and white evangelicals on the promise of filling Scalia’s seat with a conservative, the latest nomination in some ways brings his first term full circle. Even before Ginsburg’s death, Trump was running on having confirmed in excess of 200 federal judges, fulfilling a generational aim of conservative legal activists.
“The biggest thing you can do is the appointment of judges, but especially the appointment of Supreme Court justices,” Trump told supporters Friday night at a campaign rally in Newport News, Virginia. “It sets the tone of the country for 40 years, 50 years. I mean, a long time.”
The announcement came before Ginsburg was buried beside her husband next week at Arlington National Cemetery. On Friday, she was the first woman to lie in state at the Capitol, and mourners flocked to the Supreme Court for two days before that to pay respects.
Within hours of Ginsburg’s death, Trump made clear he would nominate a woman for the seat, and later volunteered he was considering five candidates. But Barrett was the early favorite, and the only one to meet with Trump.
Barrett has been a judge since 2017, when Trump nominated her to the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. But as a longtime University of Notre Dame law professor, she had already established herself as a reliable conservative in the mold of Scalia, for whom she clerked in the late 1990s.
She would be the only justice on the current court not to have received her law degree from an Ivy League school. The eight current justices all attended either Harvard or Yale.
The staunch conservative had become known to Trump in large part after her bitter 2017 appeals court confirmation on a party-line vote included allegations that Democrats were attacking her Catholic faith. The president also interviewed her in 2018 for the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, but Trump ultimately chose Brett Kavanaugh.
Trump and his political allies are itching for another fight over Barrett’s faith, seeing it as a political windfall that would backfire on Democrats. Catholic voters in Pennsylvania, in particular, are viewed as a pivotal demographic in the swing state that Biden, also Catholic, is trying to recapture.
While Democrats appear powerless to stop Barrett’s confirmation in the GOP-controlled Senate, they are seeking to use the process to weaken Trump’s reelection chances.
Barrett’s nomination could become a reckoning over abortion, an issue that has divided many Americans so bitterly for almost half a century. The idea of overturning or gutting Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion, has animated activists in both parties for decades. Now, with the seemingly decisive shift in the court’s ideological makeup, Democrats hope their voters will turn out in droves because of their frustration with the Barrett pick.
Trump has also increasingly embraced the high court — which he will have had an outsized hand in reshaping -– as an insurance policy in a close election.
Increases in mail, absentee and early voting brought about by the coronavirus pandemic have already led to a flurry of election litigation, and both Trump and Biden have assembled armies of lawyers to continue the fight once vote-counting begins. Trump has been open about tying his push to name a third justice to the court to a potentially drawn-out court fight to determine who will be sworn in on Jan. 20, 2021.
“I think this will end up in the Supreme Court,” Trump said Wednesday of the election, adding, “And I think it’s very important that we have nine justices.”
Meanwhile, outside conservative groups are planning to spend more than $25 million to support Trump and his nominee. The Judicial Crisis Network has organized a coalition that includes American First Policies, the Susan B. Anthony List, the Club for Growth and the group Catholic Vote to help confirm Barrett, and Trump’s campaign is expected to include the nomination in upcoming advertising.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. CBS News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)