Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee tossed out committee rules Thursday morning and voted to advance Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court to the full Senate without any Democratic members present.
The 12-0 committee vote frees the full Senate to vote on President Donald Trump’s nomination of Barrett on Monday. With their 53-47 majority, there’s little to stop Senate Republicans from confirming a ninth Supreme Court justice just a few days before the November 3 election.
If confirmed, Barrett would cement the court’s 6-3 conservative majority, likely for years to come. She would replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a trailblazing feminist lawyer who died in mid-September after several bouts with cancer.
Last week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham set the vote for 1 p.m. Thursday. Under committee rules, at least two members of the minority must be present for the committee to reach a quorum and to “transact” business. But Graham, Republican of South Carolina, has broad latitude to control the committee’s conduct.
“As a matter of committee rules, in practical terms, the chairman can kind of get around things, change the rules,” Rich Arenberg, who wrote the book “Congressional Procedure,” a guide to congressional legislative processes, told VICE News earlier this month. “In my view, Graham will be able to get the nomination reported to the floor.”
On Thursday, during an appearance on “Fox and Friends” ahead of the hearing, Graham indicated that he would do exactly that.
“Under the committee rules you need two members of the minority to conduct business,” Graham said. “But they're intentionally denying us that participation. They're boycotting the committee. So what I will do as chairman there will be a majority of the committee present. We will waive that rule. We will report Judge Barrett out. She will go to the floor. And hopefully, by Monday or Tuesday, she will be on the court.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, said in a statement ahead of the committee vote that Democrats intended to boycott the proceeding.
“Republicans have moved at breakneck speed to jam through this nominee, ignoring her troubling record and unprecedented evasions, and breaking longstanding committee rules to set tomorrow’s vote,” he said in a statement, as reported by the New York Times. “We will not grant this process any further legitimacy by participating in a committee markup of this nomination just 12 days before the culmination of an election that is already underway.”
During Barrett’s confirmation hearing last week, Democrats attacked the process as a rushed sham and a hypocritical turn from Republicans, many of whom agreed to block President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016 on the grounds that a new Supreme Court justice should not be confirmed in an election year.
They also sought to extract more information from Barrett, who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, about her views on issues like abortion, LGBTQ rights, and the Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in a lawsuit over the Affordable Care Act on November 10, and Democrats fear that Justice Barrett would help gut the law. (Rather than showing up to the committee vote, the Democrats placed posters of people who they said could lose their healthcare if Barrett were confirmed, the Times reported.)
But Barrett largely refused to share her judicial opinions last week, a pattern she kept up in her Tuesday written responses to questions submitted by the senators. While she identified herself as an originalist in the mold of the legendary conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, whom she once clerked for, Barrett frequently avoided senators’ questions by citing past nominees who tried not to share their legal thinking on past Supreme Court cases or opine on litigation that might come before the court.
Barrett would not, for example, say if she believes that climate change or systemic racism is real, or whether someone’s sexual orientation is an immutable trait. She has also declined to say whether Trump can pardon himself, if a president can unilaterally delay an election, or if presidents should commit to peaceful transfers of power.
“These are not normal times. It’s not normal times when we ask Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans, ‘Why are your priorities so screwed up that in the middle of a pandemic we can’t work on a COVID bill that actually helps people and you’re pushing through this nominee’?” Sen. Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said at a press conference Thursday. “It’s not normal when that question becomes a rhetorical question. But here we are.”