Amy Coney Barrett was sworn in Monday night as the U.S. Supreme Court’s 115th justice, about an hour after the Senate voted along party lines to approve President Donald Trump’s third appointment to the nation’s highest court.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the court’s longest serving member, administered the oath to Barrett outside the White House. Trump and first lady Melania Trump attended the ceremony. Trump is the first president since Ronald Reagan to nominate three new justices to the Supreme Court.
Chief Justice John Roberts will preside over a private ceremony at the White House on Tuesday, after which Barrett will be able to assume her official court duties.
The 52-48 vote came Monday evening, after Senate GOP leaders worked through the weekend to move Barrett’s nomination to the floor before next week’s general election. Georgia’s two GOP senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, voted to confirm Barrett, 48, who will replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the bench.
Democrats continued protesting GOP efforts to move ahead with Barrett’s nomination. On Sunday afternoon, Republicans voted to limit debate on the judge. The cloture vote limited debate on the Supreme Court nominee to 30 hours on the Senate floor.
Vice President Mike Pence was not present during Monday’s vote after an aide tested positive for the coronavirus over the weekend. Democratic leaders had asked Pence to stay away from presiding over Monday’s session due to potential health risks.
Barrett’s confirmation was never in doubt, as Senate Republicans overpowered Democratic opposition to secure Trump’s nominee the week before Election Day.
The 48-year-old appellate judge’s rise opens up a potential new era of rulings on abortion, gay marriage and the Affordable Care Act. A case against the Obama-era health law is scheduled to be heard Nov. 10.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scoffed at the “apocalyptic” warnings from critics that the judicial branch was becoming mired in partisan politics as he defended its transformation under his watch.
“This is something to be really proud of and feel good about,” the Republican leader said Sunday during a rare weekend session.
McConnell said that unlike legislative actions that can be undone by new presidents or lawmakers, “they won’t be able to do much about this for a long time to come.”
Schumer, of New York, said the Trump administration’s drive to install Barrett during the coronavirus crisis shows “the Republican Party is willing to ignore the pandemic in order to rush this nominee forward.”
To underscore the potential health risks, Schumer urged his colleagues Sunday not to linger in the chamber but “cast your votes quickly and from a safe distance.” Some GOP senators tested positive for the coronavirus following a Rose Garden event with Trump to announce Barrett’s nomination, but they have since said they have been cleared by their doctors from quarantine.
The confirmation is the first of a Supreme Court nominee so close to a presidential election.
Barrett presented herself in public testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee as a neutral arbiter and suggested, “It’s not the law of Amy.” But her writings against abortion and a ruling on “Obamacare” show a deeply conservative thinker. She was expected to be seated quickly on the high court.
“She’s a conservative woman who embraces her faith. She’s unabashedly pro-life, but she’s not going to apply ‘the law of Amy’ to all of us,” the Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on Fox News Channel.
At the start of Trump’s presidency, McConnell engineered a Senate rules change to allow confirmation by a majority of the 100 senators, rather than the 60-vote threshold traditionally needed to advance high court nominees over objections. It was escalation of a rules change Democrats put in place to advance other court and administrative nominees under President Barack Obama.
On Sunday, the Senate voted 51-48 to begin to bring the process to a vote by launching the final 30 hours of Senate debate. Two Republicans, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, voted against advancing the nominee, and all Democrats who voted were opposed. California Sen. Kamala Harris, the vice presidential nominee, missed the vote while campaigning in Michigan.
By pushing for Barrett’s ascension so close to the Nov. 3 election, Trump and Republicans are counting on a campaign boost, in much the way they believe McConnell’s refusal to allow the Senate to consider Obama’s nominee in February 2016 created excitement for Trump among conservatives and evangelical Christians eager for a Republican president to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
Barrett was a professor at Notre Dame Law School when she was tapped by Trump in 2017 for an appeals court opening. Two Democrats joined at that time to confirm her, but none is expected to vote for her now.