With just over a week until Election Day and despite protests from rights advocates and Democrats, the Republican-held Senate on Monday night confirmed President Donald Trump's third nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, filling the vacancy created by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death in September.
Only Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who faces a tough reelection race this year, joined Democrats in opposing Barrett's nomination to the nation's highest court, which now has six right-wing members and only three left-leaning justices. The final vote was 52-48—meaning although Vice President Mike Pence had headed to D.C. in case Republicans required his deciding vote, his help wasn't needed.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was set to administer the official constitutional oath to Barrett at the White House late Monday. Trump planned the swearing-in ceremony even though his announcement of her nomination in the Rose Garden last month was described as a "superspreader event" after which various attendees, including the president, tested positive for Covid-19.
As Common Dreams reported earlier Monday, Democrats held a talkathon ahead of the vote in which Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) declared on the chamber's floor that the GOP "is a party beholden to billionaires and extremists that is desperate to keep its grasp on power and willing to break any rule, any precedent, or any principle to hold onto that power just a little longer."
"You can't spell shameful without SHAM and that's what Senate Republicans have turned this nomination process into ... a SHAM...
— Kristen Clarke 866-OUR-VOTE (@KristenClarkeJD) October 26, 2020
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has come under fire for not only prioritizing Barrett's speedy confirmation over long-delayed Covid-19 relief and in the midst of early voting for the November election but also for pushing through Trump's nominee in direct defiance of the standard he set in 2016 when refusing to hold a vote on then-President Barack Obama's nominee to the court, Merrick Garland, several months before that year's election.
In a statement Monday night, Tax March executive director Maura Quint said that Barrett's confirmation "will only embolden the court's most conservative judges to further gut protections for Americans' healthcare, free speech, and the environment, and unleash a new wave of corporate greed."
"This confirmation was a partisan power grab," Quint continued. "Mitch McConnell violated all precedent and ignored or changed Senate rules to force through a justice who will legislate from the bench. Instead of delivering aid to the millions of Americans out of work, hungry and struggling during this pandemic, Senate Republicans made this illegitimate nomination their only priority."
"They rushed Barrett onto the court in less than 30 days, but those same senators still stand idly by as Americans struggle to survive this pandemic, claiming their hands are tied. It's beyond shameful, it's outright disgusting," she added, underscoring the importance of the upcoming election in terms of restoring the court's "credibility with the American people."
Over the past month, Democrats, progressive advocacy organizations, and even thousands of attorneys across the country have raised concerns about Barrett's legal record, asserting that the 48-year-old former clerk of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia—who died in February 2016, sparking the fight over Garland—poses a serious threat to Americans' fundamental rights.
.@SenSchumer reminds us of Justice Ginsburg's final wish that the next president name her replacement.
— People for the American Way (@peoplefor) October 26, 2020
"Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation is a direct assault on our climate and our communities," Natalie Mebane, U.S. policy director of the environmental group 350.org, said in a statement Monday before the vote. "This push of an anti-choice, anti-equality, anti-healthcare, and climate denier nominee is part of a dangerous strategy to further diminish our democracy, and prioritize fossil fuel executives and corporations, all at the expense of our health and safety."
Warning that "Barrett could ram through toxic and unnecessary fossil fuel projects, perpetuating systems of white supremacy, colonialism, and violence that Black, Indigenous, and communities of color bear the brunt of," Mebane declared: "From her refusal to acknowledge climate science, to her disturbingly intimate ties to fossil fuel groups, we demand Barrett immediately recuse herself of any and all cases concerning climate and the fossil fuel industry."
Amy Coney Barrett has repeatedly refused to acknowledge the validity of climate science. She also won't commit to recusing from oil company cases, even though Shell — where her dad worked as a top attorney — has a major climate case before the high court. https://t.co/MeHCzcPbnY
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— Jacobin (@jacobinmag) October 25, 2020
Earthjustice senior vice president of programs Sam Sankar similarly expressed disappointment with the vote and alarm about what Barrett's confirmation means for the planet.
"We know what the environment needs from the next Supreme Court justice," said Sankar. "Judge Amy Coney Barrett's answers during the confirmation process left us concerned about her respect for the federal government's responsibility to protect people, and her commitment to keeping the courtroom doors open for everyone."
Considering that Barrett's confirmation solidified the court's 6-3 conservative majority, "potentially giving Republican litigants an additional ally as the justices review the various requests," CNN on Monday detailed various petitions the new justice could soon weigh in on, from the fights over Trump's taxes and Pennsylvania's ballot extensions to Wisconsin's ballot counting and requests, Minnesota's congressional election date, and Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban.
Critics of Barrett have emphasized worries that her joining the court could impact the presidential election and reproductive freedom, particularly the court's landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that affirmed the constitutional right to abortion.
In protest of Barrett's nomination, activists in over 100 communities across the country took to the streets on Sunday dressed in black and red robes. As Ms. Magazine reported, "Those in black robes with white laced collars dressed as Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Those in red robes with white bonnets were dressed as handmaids from Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel and series The Handmaid's Tale."
— Carrie N. Baker (@CarrieNBaker) October 26, 2020
The battle over Barrett's confirmation has renewed discussions about reforms, drawing attention to proposals such as term limits for justices and expanding the court. Democratic House candidate Mondaire Jones, who is expected to win his race in New York's 17th District next week, highlighted the latter on Monday.
"We must act—before Amy Coney Barrett and the Supreme Court do," Jones wrote for The Nation, recalling his grandparents' struggles to vote. "There is no other practical choice. We must expand the court. If we don't, a return to the Jim Crow regime under which my grandparents and tens of millions of Black people suffered is inevitable."
If we are to have any hope of the courts upholding the progressive legislation passed in the new Congress, then we must expand the Supreme Court.
If you agree, please add your name to our petition: https://t.co/jiTuixwfmJ
— Mondaire Jones (@MondaireJones) October 26, 2020
In a series of tweets Monday, Slate staff writer Mark Joseph Stern also argued that if Democrats win control of Congress in November, they should expand the court.
This is the new rule: The party in power can use any tool at its disposal, within constitutional limits, to capture the court. If Democrats win in November, court expansion is the only proportional response to Republicans’ hardball. Anything less would be conceding defeat.
— Mark Joseph Stern (@mjs_DC) October 26, 2020
"Everybody responding that Democrats are cowards should channel their energy into organizing and lobbying your representatives," Stern added. "Right now many Democratic lawmakers are scared to expand the court. Your job is to make them scared of what will happen if they DON'T expand the court."