Republican senators powered Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett over the finish line Monday with a vote to confirm her to a lifetime appointment, giving President Trump a third justice on the high court.
She was sworn in at the White House later Monday by Justice Clarence Thomas, and the president hosted a prime-time South Lawn ceremony. On Tuesday, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. will administer the official judicial oath in a private ceremony at the Supreme Court.
No Democrat supported Justice Barrett, marking the first time in recent history that a Supreme Court nominee cleared the Senate without a single vote from the party that didn’t control the White House.
But the 52-48 vote was less a reflection on the judge and more on the nastiness of court battles and the Republicans’ decision to speed her nomination through the Senate in the heat of a presidential election campaign, even while voters were casting ballots.
She was officially nominated Sept. 26, making this the fastest Supreme Court confirmation in 45 years. Republicans flexed their slim majority and plowed through COVID-19 concerns and complaints that they were breaking their own precedent set four years ago of not approving Supreme Court nominees once a presidential campaign was underway.
“The process comports entirely with the Constitution. We don’t have any doubt, do we, that if the shoe was on the other foot, they would be confirming this nominee? And have no doubt, if the shoe was on the other foot in 2016, they would be doing the exact same thing,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said on the chamber floor.
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Democrats, left without any final delaying tactics, have asked voters to punish Republicans for their handling of the nomination, which will fill the seat left vacant by the death last month of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“Let the record show that tonight the Republican Senate majority decided to thwart the will of the people and confirm a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court in the middle of a presidential election — after more than 60 million Americans have voted,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.
Shortly after the confirmation vote, Justice Barrett, with her husband by her side, was administered the oath by Justice Thomas.
About 200 supporters of the justice looked on, socially distanced on the White House South Lawn.
“The entire world saw Justice Barrett’s deep knowledge, tremendous poise and towering intellect. She answered questions for hours on end. Throughout the entire confirmation, her impeccable credentials were unquestioned, unchallenged and obvious to all,” Mr. Trump said.
The oath at the White House will be followed with a second one at the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
“I will do my job without fear or favor,” Justice Barrett said at the White House. “A judge declares independence, not only from Congress and the president, but also from the private beliefs that might otherwise move her.”
Democrats are pondering their next steps. Some are threatening to try to expand the number of justices on the Supreme Court and pack new seats with picks from Joseph R. Biden should their presidential nominee win the White House and their party take control of the Senate.
Mr. Biden has said he would create a committee to evaluate what reforms are needed in the judiciary after decades of increasingly partisan confirmation battles.
Liberal activists say that is not enough. They have signaled a push to end the use of the filibuster, which would be a precursor to packing the court.
A list of major cases is awaiting Justice Barrett at the Supreme Court.
The justices are slated to hear a challenge to the Affordable Care Act on Nov. 10, are certain to face more questions surrounding the presidential election and have a major case involving Mr. Trump’s plans for the 2020 census at the end of November. Further cases on the president’s border wall construction and his crackdown on bogus asylum claims are also on the docket this term.
Sen. Susan M. Collins of Maine was the only Republican to vote against the president’s nominee. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, voted to confirm Justice Barrett on the merits, though she voted on procedural grounds against moving forward with the process during a presidential election.
Both senators have said they thought the man who won the presidency on Nov. 3 should fill the vacancy.
Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, Mr. Biden’s running mate, voted against the nominee.
By filling three seats on the high court, Mr. Trump becomes the first president since Ronald Reagan to name more than two.
The court now has six members named by Republicans: Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Mr. Trump’s other two picks, Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh. The three Democrat-named members are Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
Mr. Trump has also installed 162 district court judges and 53 circuit court of appeals picks, including Justice Barrett, who sat on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He has announced an intent to nominate Thomas L. Kirsch II, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, to fill her 7th Circuit seat.
Before she became a judge, Justice Barrett was a law professor at the University of Notre Dame.
While teaching, she criticized the 2012 high court ruling upholding Obamacare as a tax. During her confirmation hearings, Democrats said that should disqualify her from participating in next month’s case.
They said Mr. Trump indicated in a number of tweets that he wanted justices on the court to strike down the Affordable Care Act, suggesting that was why he nominated Justice Barrett. Democrats also said Justice Barrett should recuse herself from election-related disputes, should they arise, to prove she was not beholden to Mr. Trump.
She countered that she has not formed opinions of the specific questions facing the court and said she has made no commitments to anyone on how she would rule in any cases.
Republicans seemed to suffer a setback early in the confirmation process when several senators who were at the White House Rose Garden ceremony announcing the nominee contracted COVID-19. But Mr. McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, insisted that the timeline wouldn’t be altered.
This week, as an outbreak of COVID-19 swept through Vice President Mike Pence’s office, Democrats demanded that he sit out the vote. As president of the Senate, he could have presided over the vote, even though he was not needed in the chamber to break a tie.
Mr. Pence did not end up attending the vote in the chamber.
The White House swearing-in ceremony presented another decision for Republican senators, many of whom begged off at the last minute, saying they were headed home.
The confirmation vote was the last major business the Senate was expected to transact before Election Day.
Asked about the White House plan to hold an outdoor event Monday night to celebrate the Senate confirmation of Justice Barrett, Mr. Biden said, “I don’t blame them for celebrating.”
But Mr. Biden said he hoped attendees would wear masks, practice social distancing and take other steps to ensure it didn’t become a superspreader event.
Often lost in the political wrangling was Justice Barrett herself.
She delivered a sparkling performance at her confirmation hearing, sidestepping Democrats’ efforts to get her to weigh in on hot-button issues making their way through the courts.
Polling shows that while a majority of voters support Democrats’ calls to leave the selection of Ginsburg’s replacement to the winner of the presidential election, they don’t hold that against Justice Barrett. A significant plurality wanted her to be approved.
• Dave Boyer contributed to this report.