By: Nikita Vandrangi – Political Editor
On September 18, 2020 Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away due to complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer sending shockwaves throughout the country. As we near a crucial election, her passing has plunged the country into deep political turmoil.
On September 26, 2020 President Donald Trump named Judge Amy Coney Barrett as the nominee to succeed the late Justice Ginsburg. Led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republicans are looking to push the nomination process through before election day rolls around.
Amy Coney Barrett serves as a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which she was appointed in 2017 by President Trump. She is also a law professor at Notre Dame Law School, where she graduated from herself and was the executive editor of the Notre Dame Law Review. She served as law clerk to Judge Laurence Silberman before clerking for the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Judge Barrett shares many of his conservative views and cites herself as a textualist, largely interpreting the constitution as written. “A judge must apply the law as written,” Judge Barrett said in her acceptance speech on September 26, 2020. “Judges are not policymakers, and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they might hold.” She is a part of the Christian group, People of Praise, but has stated she does not let religious values inform her decisions. Judge Barrett is married to Jesse M. Barrett, also a graduate of Notre Dame Law School, and they have seven children together.
The Republican party sees this as an opportunity to gain the support of conservative voters unsure about reelecting President Trump. They hope to use the nomination to unite the party, for the Supreme Court is an important issue to many conservatives. Most Republican senators have lined up to back President Trump’s nominee including Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina both of whom are facing tough reelection races. Senator Graham, who is also the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has specifically cited Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s messy confirmation process as his reasoning for encouraging the nomination process. However, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and Maine Senator Susan Collins have both publicly announced they will not be voting to confirm a nominee before the election. Utah Senator Mitt Romney, who was an unsure vote for a while, released a statement of support expressing that “[he] intends to vote based upon [the nominee’s] qualifications.” Some Republican voters are embracing the idea of appointing a conservative justice to the Supreme Court but are concerned about the speed of the process. As of now, Republicans have shown no sign of slowing down or halting the nomination process.
On the other hand, the Democratic party has fiercely opposed the actions of the Republicans, calling them out for hypocrisy based on the events in 2016. After the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia, then President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to the court in March of 2016, which Senate Republicans did not approve of claiming they should wait until the election that November. Consequently, Democrats have put forth the option of court packing, or adding more justices to the court. Because there is no set number of Supreme Court Justices in the Constitution, all it would take is for Congress to pass legislation increasing the number of justices. Massachusetts Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren along with Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy and former Mayor of South Bend Pete Buttigieg have all come out in support of the idea. Many Democrats fear Judge Amy Coney Barrett will jeopardize the future of Roe v. Wade and the Affordable Care Act, which is on the docket in November. However, the Democratic Presidential Nominee and former Vice President Joseph Biden, has discouraged court packing even prior to this nomination. “We’ll live to rue the day,” he said in response to the prospect of court packing in a 2019 interview with the Iowa State Line during his primary run. So far, Vice President Biden has only expressed support for waiting until the election to nominate a justice. Several others have condemned court packing including Maine State Rep. Sara Gideon, Captain Mark Kelly, and Theresa Greenfield of Iowa, all of whom are in tight senate races. Other Democrats also believe energy should be focused elsewhere, like COVID-19 relief.
Normally, the nomination process takes about two or three months, but the Senate is looking to fast track that timeline. It begins with a nomination from the President, and then the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a series of hearings. The Committee then holds a recommendation vote before sending it to the Senate for a floor vote, where a simple majority is required to confirm the Justice. However, recently North Carolina Senator Thom Thillis and Utah Senator Michael Lee have tested positive for COVID-19, raising many questions about the future of the confirmation process, for both Senators sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has announced that the Senate will reschedule returning to full session from October 5, 2020 to October 19, 2020, but will proceed as planned with Judge Barrett’s nomination. The first hearing is scheduled for October 12, 2020.