Senate Republicans scheduled a vote in the Judiciary Committee next week on Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett, overcoming Democrats’ attempts to scuttle the quick pace to confirmation.
The committee voted 12-10 on Thursday to lock in a vote for 1 p.m. on Oct. 22. If Judge Barrett clears that hurdle — and it’s virtually certain she will — then she’ll move to the Senate floor for a full vote in the last week of October.
Republicans beat back Democrats’ motion to adjourn the committee to stall Judge Barrett, and Chairman Lindsey Graham also ignored Democrats’ attempts to deny the committee a quorum.
He said he’s prepared for more tactics ahead of next week’s final vote.
Thursday marked the fourth and final day of the confirmation hearing on Judge Barrett, with outsiders invited to give their thoughts.
The American Bar Association, which rated her “well qualified” for the high court, testified, as did four supporters, picked by Republicans, and four opponents, picked by Democrats.
Two of those Democratic witnesses honed in on Obamacare, bolstering Judge Barrett’s opponents who say she will be a key vote in a looming case that could gut the 2010 health law.
Dr. Farhan Bhatti, who practices in Michigan, said some of his patients’ lives were saved because of the Affordable Care Act.
“During a pandemic that continues to kill 1,000 Americans each day, people need the ACA and the freedom it provides,” he told lawmakers.
Stacy Staggs, director of Little Lobbyists Community Engagement, said Judge Barrett could threaten the health coverage that’s helped her twin girls, born prematurely with complex medical needs and, now 7 years old, who need constant care. She said the cost of that care has reached into the millions of dollars.
Republicans countered with witnesses who said Judge Barrett will approach cases fairly, with an eye on the law rather than on an ideological agenda.
Retired Judge Thomas Griffith, who sat on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., said he has seen Judge Barrett issue rulings that weren’t aligned with her personal beliefs or Catholic Church teachings.
“Judge Barrett is supremely well qualified,” he told the committee.
Democrats have argued Republicans’ speed in trying to get Judge Barrett on the high court is to try to make sure she can take part in major looming decisions.
“The purpose of doing it is simply to have a justice on the Supreme Court — as the president said — to decide the election and to strike down the Affordable Care Act. We have had inadequate time to review this nomination,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat.
Democrats also argued that a replacement for the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg should only be named by the winner of the Nov. 3 election.
They tried to halt Thursday’s proceedings by denying a quorum. Only Sen. Richard J. Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the chamber, showed up for the start of the meeting. He said under committee rules, at least two members of the minority party were supposed to be there to conduct business.
“We are breaking the rules,” the Illinois Democrat said. “It’s beneath the dignity of this committee. We should have played by the rules.”
Mr. Graham brushed that complaint aside and plowed ahead with the vote to schedule next week’s final vote — and it became clear the Democrats were mostly present but were waiting just outside the room. They began to file in as Mr. Graham called the vote.
Even those Democrats not in the room still voted by proxy, making clear the committee was fully prepared to do business after all.
The hardball GOP move, though, drew a string of denunciations from Democrats, and counter-recriminations from Republicans, tapping decades of pent-up bad blood over judicial nominations.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat and the most senior senator in the chamber, said if Republicans pushed Judge Barrett’s nomination through now, it would do “irreparable” harm to both the Senate and the judiciary.
Mr. Graham countered that Democrats had broken that seal more than a decade ago. He pointed to then-Sen. Barack Obama, who voted against both of President George W. Bush’s Supreme Court nominees, saying that while they were legally qualified, “the critical ingredient is supplied by what is in the judge’s heart” — and he found them lacking.
Even in 2005, Mr. Obama acknowledged “the kind of poisonous atmosphere” that had built up around judicial picks.
If anything, it’s gotten worse.
In 2013 then-Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, used the “nuclear option” shortcut to change the rules and defang the filibuster, allowing Mr. Obama, by then in the White House, to pack the critical federal circuit court in Washington, D.C., with his picks.
Republicans then denied Mr. Obama his pick for the Supreme Court in 2016, blocking action on Judge Merrick Garland for 10 months.
Democrats then attempted to filibuster President Trump’s pick for that seat, Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, and Republicans countered by triggering the nuclear option themselves to force through now-Justice Gorsuch.