The US Senate is gearing up for a rare weekend session as Republicans race to put Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court and cement a conservative majority before election day despite Democratic efforts to stall President Donald Trump’s nominee.
Democrats used time-consuming procedural hurdles to delay the start of Friday’s Senate session until midday, but the party has no realistic chance of stopping Ms Barrett’s advance in the Republican-controlled chamber.
Ms Barrett, a federal appeals court judge, is expected to be confirmed on Monday and quickly join the court.
“It’s hard to think of any nominee we’ve had in the past who is any better than this one,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, told Fox News late on Thursday.
Ms Barrett, 48, presented herself in public evidence 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 Ms Barrett’s past writings against abortion and a ruling on the Obama-era health care law show a deeply conservative thinker.
Mr Trump said this week he is hopeful the Supreme Court will undo the health law when the justices take up a challenge on November 10, the week after the election.
The fast-track confirmation process is like none other in US history so close to a presidential election.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Friday that the Republican push to seat Ms Barrett was “the most partisan, hypocritical, least legitimate process in the history of the nation”.
I required the GOP to show up for a live quorum call—Senate can't do business without quorum— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) October 23, 2020
Then I forced us into closed session to talk face-to-face about this nomination & its impact on America
But the GOP decided to keep forcing this nominee through an illegitimate process
“We’re not going to have business as usual,” Mr Schumer said as he forced one procedural vote after another.
At the start of Mr Trump’s presidency, Mr 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 Republican majority, Ms Barrett’s confirmation is almost certain.
Republicans on the Judiciary Committee powered Ms Barrett’s nomination forward on Thursday despite a boycott of the vote by Democrats.
Senator Lindsey Graham, the committee chairman, 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.
Mr Graham, a Republican, called Ms Barrett a “role model” for conservative women and for people strongly held religious beliefs.
Democrats decried the “sham” process and said Ms Barrett would undo much of what was accomplished by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the liberal justice who died last month.
By pushing for Ms Barrett’s ascension so close to the November 3 election, Mr Trump and his Republican allies are counting on a campaign boost, in much the way they believe Mr 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.
Mr Graham, for example, with his high-profile role leading the hearings, has been raking about one million US dollars a day this month for his reelection campaign.
That rate outpaces Mr Graham’s third-quarter total of 28 million US dollars, which his campaign said represented the largest amount ever raised by any Republican Senate candidate in a single quarter, in any state.
In trying to derail or at least slow Ms Barrett’s confirmation, Democrats argue the winner of the presidential election should decide who replaces Ms Ginsburg.
Ms Barrett was a professor at Notre Dame Law School when she was picked by Mr 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 in the days ahead.
During the three days of evidence, and subsequent filings to the Senate committee, Ms 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.