US Senate panel approves Trump Supreme Court pick Barrett despite Democratic boycott

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – The Republican-led US Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday (Oct 22) approved President Donald Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to a lifetime US Supreme Court seat despite a Democratic boycott, clearing the way for a full Senate vote on her confirmation planned for Monday.

By a vote of 12-0, the panel approved Mrs Barrett with all Republican members voting yes and the 10 committee Democrats boycotting the meeting.

Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsey Graham said the Democratic boycott was “their choice”, adding: “We’re not going to allow them to take over the committee”.

“This is a groundbreaking moment” for conservatives, Mr Graham said before the vote began.

Mrs Barrett, a federal appeals court judge whose confirmation would expand the top US judicial body’s conservative majority to 6-3, was poised to win the 22-member committee’s approval with unified support among its 12 Republican members even with the Democrats vowing to stay away.

In announcing their boycott of Thursday’s vote, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and Judiciary Committee Democrats said of Barrett’s nomination: “This has been a sham process from the beginning.”

They added that they “will not grant this process any further legitimacy by participating” in the committee’s vote, just 12 days before the Nov 3 US presidential election between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden in which tens of millions of ballots have already been cast.

Mr Trump nominated Mrs Barrett to succeed the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She is the Republican President’s third Supreme Court nominee as he moves it further to the right.

A favourite of Christian conservatives, Mrs Barrett frustrated Judiciary Committee Democrats during her confirmation hearing last week by sidestepping questions on abortion, presidential powers, climate change, voting rights, Obamacare and other issues.

The 48-year-old is a devout Catholic who personally opposes abortion.

She told the committee last week that she believed the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade ruling legalising abortion nationwide was not a “super-precedent” that could never potentially be overturned. She also said she had “no agenda” to roll back abortion rights.

Mr Trump said in 2016 he would appoint justices who would overturn Roe.

Push to confirm before election

Senate Republicans, who have made confirmation of Trump’s conservative judicial appointees a high priority, have pulled out all the stops to ensure that the chamber can confirm Barrett to the post before Election Day, as the President has requested. Republicans hold a 53-47 Senate majority, making her confirmation a virtual certainty.

Mr Trump has said he believes the Supreme Court will decide the election’s outcome and has made clear that he wants Mrs Barrett on the bench for any election-related cases.

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Democrats pressed her to recuse herself from such cases because of a conflict of interest in potentially deciding the political fate of the President who nominated her so close to the election. She rebuffed their pleas.

No nominee to the Supreme Court has ever been confirmed by the Senate this close to a presidential election.

Republicans are hoping that Mrs Barrett’s confirmation can give an election boost to incumbent senators in the party facing tough re-election fights, including Mr Graham in South Carolina and panel members Joni Ernst in Iowa and Thom Tillis in North Carolina.

Democrats were incensed that Senate Republicans moved forward with the nomination so near an election after refusing in 2016 to allow the chamber to act on a Supreme Court nomination by Mr Trump’s Democratic predecessor, Mr Barack Obama, because it was an election year.

Mr Trump appointed Mrs Barrett to the Chicago-based 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017. If confirmed, she could serve on the Supreme Court for decades, alongside Mr Trump’s two other appointees, Mr Neil Gorsuch and Mr Brett Kavanaugh.

Some on the left have floated the idea of expanding the number of justices if Biden wins to counter the court’s rightward drift in light of the actions of Senate Republicans in 2016 and now.

Republicans have decried the idea as “court-packing.”

The number of justices has been fixed by law at nine for more than a century. 

In an interview with the CBS programme 60 Minutes, Biden said if elected he would create a bipartisan commission of constitutional scholars to look into judicial reforms, saying there could be various “alternatives” to consider besides expanding the Supreme Court.

Biden said the judiciary is“getting out of whack”.

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