The US Senate has a week before the presidential election confirmed Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court
President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans voted 52-48 to approve the judge, overcoming the unified opposition of the Democrats.
Her appointment seals for the foreseeable future a 6-3 conservative majority on the top US judicial body. The Democratic presidential candidate , Joe Biden called the move rushed and unprecedented. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said that by going ahead with the vote so close to the election the Republican majority was “lighting its credibility on fire”.
Democrats fear Judge Barrett’s confirmation to the lifelong post will favour Republicans in politically sensitive cases that reach America’s top court for decades to come. Justice Barrett, 48, took the oath of office at the White House alongside President Trump.
Only one Republican, Senator Susan Collins, who faces a tough re-election battle in Maine, voted against the president’s nominee. The new justice is the third appointed by the Republican president, after Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.
President Trump, who had just returned from campaigning in Pennsylvania, presided over Justice Barrett’s constitutional oath ceremony. Mr Trump said: “This is a momentous day for America, for the United States constitution and for the fair and impartial rule of law.” He added: “She is one of our nation’s most brilliant legal scholars and she will make an outstanding justice on the highest court in our land.”
Justice Barrett said afterwards: “A judge declares independence not only from the Congress and the president, but also from the private beliefs that might otherwise move her. The judicial oath captures the essence of the judicial duty: the rule of law must always control.”
Mr Biden said the “rushed and unprecedented” appointment served as a “stark reminder to every American that your vote matters”. “While panicked and erratic in mishandling the pandemic, Donald Trump has been crystal clear on one thing for the past four years, he wants to tear down the Affordable Care Act in its entirety,” he said.
Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris said Justice Barrett’s confirmation was “a disgrace, not only because of what she will do when she gets on the bench, but because of the entire process”.
Democrats argued for weeks that it should be up to the winner of the 3 November election to pick the nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy. But Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said on Monday: “We don’t have any doubt, do we, that if the shoe was on the other foot, they’d be confirming. You can’t win them all, and elections have consequences.”
Democrats have threatened to rebel against Judge Barrett’s appointment by court-packing which would entail expanding the number of justices on the nine-seat Supreme Court – if they win the White House and control of the Senate in the elections next week.
Mr Biden has refused to make clear whether he favours such a step, which could transform the third branch of US government. Mr Biden said last week he would appoint a bipartisan commission to study whether an overhaul of the judiciary was necessary.
Justice Barrett took the judicial oath in a private ceremony at the Supreme Court on Tuesday.