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Senate confirms Amy Coney Barrett, heralding new conservative era for Supreme Court

Some legal experts say this will be the most conservative court since before World War II.
Image: FILE PHOTO: Barrett meets with U.S. senators ahead of vote on her nomination
Judge Amy Coney Barrett at the Capitol on Oct. 21, 2020.Sarah Silbiger / Pool via Reuters
/ Source: NBC News

The Republican-led Senate voted narrowly on Monday to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, ending an acrimonious confirmation process and handing President Donald Trump a political victory days before the election.

The 48-year-old appeals court judge will fill the seat left vacant by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the liberal icon who died Sept. 18, and is expected to propel a sharp ideological turn on the court. Democrats made numerous unsuccessful attempts to slow down or derail the vote but ran headlong into a GOP determined to cement a 6-3 majority.

Some legal experts say it will be the most conservative Supreme Court since before World War II. The addition of Barrett could solidify the right’s advantages on issues like campaign finance and gun rights while threatening progressive issues like abortion rights, voting rights and health care regulations.

The vote was 52-48, with only Republicans voting “yes” and Democrats unifying in opposition. Just one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who faces a tough re-election race, voted “no.”

After the presiding officer, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, called the vote, a round of applause broke out in the chamber as Republican senators bumped fists to celebrate.

Barrett, who was confirmed 30 days after Trump announced her nomination, is the first nominee in the modern era to be sent to the Supreme Court on a partisan vote.

Her nomination has drawn enthusiasm from Republicans, who have made the courts their priority in the Senate, and anger from Democrats, who warned not to fill a vacancy in an election year, particularly after GOP leaders refused to do so under a Democratic president in 2016.

The White House is planning to hold swearing-in ceremony on Monday, where Barrett's official constitutional oath will be administered by Justice Clarence Thomas, the most conservative member of the court, a senior White House official said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, reversed course over the weekend and said she’d vote in favor of confirming Barrett even though she opposed the process of filling the vacancy near an election.

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who voted for Trump’s two other Supreme Court nominees, lamented the “degradation of Senate norms and procedures” in an op-ed explaining his opposition to the Barrett confirmation and its “unprecedented” nature.

Barrett could quickly begin to play a pivotal role on the court. She cannot vote on cases that have already been heard, but after being sat she could help decide applications from states for the court to settle disputes about voting methods.

The court has already decided on applications in several election-related disputes, largely siding with Republicans on issues like curbside voting in Alabama and witness requirements in South Carolina.

With a week until the election, her confirmation is a victory for Trump and the Senate Republicans, who are campaigning on having delivered a more conservative judiciary.

"This is one of the brilliant, admired and well-qualified nominees in our lifetime," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said before the vote, adding that Barrett will be the only justice confirmed with a law degree from “any school not named Harvard or Yale.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that “the Republican majority is lighting its credibility on fire.”

“You will never, ever, get your credibility back,” Schumer said before the vote. “And the next time the American people give Democrats a majority in this chamber, you will have forfeited your right to tell us how to run that majority... You walk a perilous road. I know you think this will eventually blow over. But you're wrong. The American people will never forget this blatant act of bad faith.”

Democrats haven’t decided how to respond if they win the White House and Congress, as presidential nominee Joe Biden reiterated Monday he has “made no judgement” on that and will set up a bipartisan commission of experts to propose ways to depoliticize the courts.

Vice President Mike Pence canceled plans to preside over the vote after five people in his office tested positive for Covid-19.

Democrats have warned that Barrett’s confirmation could lead to the end of the Affordable Care Act, with the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Nov. 10 in a case challenging the health care law.

They also argue that that she would vote in favor of overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal.

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