UNITED STATES

Murkowski’s nod gives Barrett extra boost for Supreme Court

Oct 24, 2020, 3:24 PM
Amy Coney Barrett...
FILE; Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/ Jacquelyn Martin)
(AP Photo/ Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett won crucial backing Saturday when one of the last Republican holdouts announced her support for President Donald Trump’s pick ahead of a confirmation vote expected Monday.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said during Saturday’s session that while she opposed her party’s decision to push ahead with the nomination process so close to the Nov. 3 presidential election, she supported the federal judge who is on track to lock in a conservative court majority for years to come.

Barrett already appeared to have enough votes for confirmation from Senate Republicans who hold the majority in the chamber and are racing to install her on the high court before Election Day. But Murkowski’s nod gives her a boost of support. Only one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, is now expected to oppose the conservative judge.

“While I oppose the process that has led us to this point, I do not hold it against her,” Murkowski said.

The Senate opened the rare weekend session despite Democratic efforts to stall Mr. Trump’s nominee.

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Democrats mounted more procedural hurdles during the day, but the party has no realistic chance of stopping Barrett’s advance. Barrett, a federal appeals court judge from Indiana, is expected to be confirmed Monday and quickly join the court.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., noted the political rancor but defended his handling of the process.

“Our recent debates have been heated, but curiously talk of Judge Barrett’s actual credentials or qualifications are hardly featured,” McConnell said. He called her one of the most “impressive” nominees for public office “in a generation.”

The fast-track confirmation process is like none other in U.S. history so close to a presidential election. Democrats call it a “sham” and say the winner of the Nov. 3 presidential election should name the nominee to fill the vacancy left by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York warned Republicans the only way to remove the “stain” of their action would be to “withdraw the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett until after the election.”

With the nation experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases, Democrats were expected to force a series of votes on coronavirus relief legislation, including the House-passed Heroes Act that would pump money into schools, hospitals and jobless benefits and provide other aid.

Majority Republicans were expected to turn aside the measures and keep Barrett’s confirmation on track, which would lock a 6-3 conservative majority on the court for the foreseeable future. Senators planned to stay in session Saturday and Sunday.

Barrett, 48, presented herself in public testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee as a neutral arbiter of cases on abortion, the Affordable Care Act and presidential power — issues soon confronting the court. At one point she suggested, “It’s not the law of Amy.”

But Barrett’s past writings against abortion and a ruling on the Obama-era health care law show a deeply conservative thinker.

Pres. Trump said this week he is hopeful the Supreme Court will undo the health law when the justices take up a challenge Nov. 10.

The fast-track confirmation process is like none other in U.S. history so close to a presidential election.

Schumer called it the “least legitimate process in the country’s history” as he forced procedural steps.

But Republicans countered they were taking as much time on Barrett’s nomination as the average for Supreme Court confirmation. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, dismissed the stall tactics as “frivolous.”

At the start of Mr. 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. With a 53-47 GOP majority, Barrett’s confirmation is almost certain.

Only Collins, who faces a tight reelection in Maine, has said she won’t vote for a nominee so close to the presidential election.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, acknowledged the partisan nature of the proceedings but said he could not live with himself if the Senate failed to confirm someone he said was such an exceptional nominee. Graham, R-S.C., called Barrett a “role model” for conservative women and for people with strongly held religious beliefs.

Democrats said Barrett would undo much of what was accomplished by liberal icon Ginsburg.

By pushing for Barrett’s ascension so close to the Nov. 3 election, Pres. Trump and his Republican allies are counting on a campaign boost, in much the way they believe McConnell’s refusal to allow the Senate to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee in February 2016 created excitement for Mr. Trump among conservatives and evangelical Christians eager for the Republican president to make that nomination after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death.

Barrett was a professor at Notre Dame Law School when she was tapped by the president in 2017 for an appeals court opening. Two Democrats joined at that time to confirm her, but none is expected to vote for her in the days ahead.

During the three days of testimony, and subsequent filings to the Senate committee, Barrett declined to answer basic questions for senators, such as whether the president can change the date of federal elections, which is set in law. Instead, she pledged to take the cases as they come.
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Associated Press writer Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina, and Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska contributed to this report.

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Murkowski’s nod gives Barrett extra boost for Supreme Court