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The Senate Nears Confirming Trump's 3rd Supreme Court Justice

Oct 26, 2020
Originally published on October 26, 2020 7:25 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The Senate is on the verge of confirming President Trump's third justice for the U.S. Supreme Court. Members gathered for a rare Sunday session to advance her nomination. And a final Senate vote is set for tonight - just eight days before Election Day. We have NPR's Carrie Johnson here to talk us through this. Good morning, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: So the Republicans promised a very quick process, and it seems like that has happened. I mean, the White House nominated Barrett exactly 30 days ago. Where do things stand at this moment?

JOHNSON: So fast. Republicans on the Judiciary Committee advanced Barrett to the full Senate late last week after Democrats boycotted the vote. Now, Democrats have stayed in lockstep in opposition to this nomination, but they haven't been able to stop the proceedings from moving forward. And yesterday, the Senate voted, largely along party lines, to advance the nomination.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sees this as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to lock in conservative control of the court. Here's what he said on the Senate floor yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITCH MCCONNELL: We made an important contribution to the future of this country. A lot of what we've done over the last four years will be undone sooner or later by the next election. It won't be able to do much about this for a long time to come.

GREENE: Now, Carrie, we just got a pause on that. I mean, that line from McConnell has gotten some attention because it sounds like it's - I mean, is he predicting that this election is not going to go well for Republicans?

JOHNSON: He certainly doesn't sound optimistic right then. But what we do know for sure is that Barrett is likely to be confirmed tonight, could be sworn in as late as this evening. One open question, though, is whether Vice President Mike Pence, as president of the Senate, will be there after some of his aides tested positive for the coronavirus.

GREENE: Oh, that's right. Well, let's talk about the meaning of this confirmation. I mean, Amy Coney Barrett did not answer a lot of substantive questions during her confirmation hearings. What do we know about what kind of justice she would be?

JOHNSON: She was incredibly cagey on issues like voting rights, climate change and presidential power. Even so, we know she's a protege of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative. She may actually be more conservative than Scalia on issues like gun rights. She's written critical things about court rulings that upheld the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. As a devout Catholic, she believes life begins at conception. And she, several years ago, signed a newspaper ad that called Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion precedent, a barbaric legacy.

GREENE: Well, and we could see, I mean, her in action soon, right? The Supreme Court term has begun. I mean, how quickly might she be hearing cases?

JOHNSON: Really quickly, if history is a guide. She won't be able to deliberate on cases that have already been argued, but she could be on the bench as early as Tuesday - tomorrow - and certainly in time for the Obamacare argument November 10. There are other cases in the pipeline soon on religious freedom and LGBTQ rights. And there are also some abortion cases that are making their way to the Supreme Court, too.

GREENE: And maybe cases involving this presidential election, depending on how things go, I mean, which President Trump is running in, of course. And Democrats tried to get Barrett to recuse herself from any cases involving the election. Where does that stand?

JOHNSON: Yeah. If a case does get to the court, as President Trump says he expects, it's not clear what Amy Coney Barrett will do. She did tell senators she'd look at whether there's an appearance of a conflict to decide a case about the political fate of the president. But the Supreme Court basically operates on an honor system, and no one can force her to recuse or sit on the sidelines.

But Democrats are warning if she takes part in a case that hands this election to Donald Trump, that could be enormously controversial and damaging for the court and for Barrett herself.

GREENE: And, Carrie, what about this question that's been swirling in this campaign about whether Joe Biden, if he's elected president, might push to expand the number of justices on the court?

JOHNSON: Yeah. And Joe Biden told "60 Minutes" last night that he wants to appoint a presidential commission to study this issue. That does not make left-leaning Democrats very happy. They think that'll just sap all momentum from the idea of adding seats to the Supreme Court if Democrats win the Senate and the White House.

GREENE: That is NPR's Carrie Johnson covering a lot for us this morning ahead of this final vote. Carrie, thanks so much.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.