Amy Coney Barrett was sworn in as a member of the US supreme court at a ceremony at the White House on Monday night, after the US Senate voted by 52-48 to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee to the highest court in the country just a week ahead of the presidential election.
Clarence Thomas, the longest-serving justice on the court, swore in Ms Barrett at the ceremony, which took place in defiance of coronavirus restrictions. A gathering to mark Ms Barrett’s nomination at the White House on September 29th was widely believed to have been a “super-spreader” event that led to the infection of several people with coronavirus, including potentially Mr Trump and first lady Melania Trump.
Ms Barrett’s appointment marks a major policy achievement for Mr Trump, who pledged to nominate conservative justices to the court when he ran for president in 2016. She is the third justice to have been nominated by Mr Trump and confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate. Her confirmation cements the right-wing tilt of the court, potentially for decades to come.
Introducing Ms Barrett, Mr Trump said the 48-year-old lawyer would “make an outstanding justice on the highest court”.
“This is a momentous day for America, for the United States constitution and for the fair and impartial rule of law.
“The constitution is the ultimate defence of American liberty. The faithful application of the law is the cornerstone of the public. That is why as president I have no more solemn obligation or no greater honour than to appoint supreme court justices,” he said to the assembled guests.
‘Honoured and humbled’
Speaking after taking the constitutional oath at the White House, Ms Barrett said: “It’s a privilege to be asked to serve my country in this office and I stand here tonight truly honoured and humbled.”
She thanked the US Senate for confirming her. “I am grateful for the confidence you have expressed in me and I pledge to you and the American people that I will discharge my duties to the best of my ability,” adding: “a judge declares independence, not only from Congress and the president, but also from the private beliefs that might otherwise move her.”
In a statement, the Trump campaign said: “Justice Amy Coney Barrett is a reminder to millions of Americans why they voted for President Trump in the first place. She is now the third solid, conservative justice appointed to the supreme court by the president and she will apply the constitution and not turn the court into a super legislature.”
But Democrats decried the process, arguing that a justice should not be confirmed so close to an election. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell famously blocked former president Barack Obama’s nominee to replace the late Antonin Scalia in early 2016 from securing a hearing, arguing at the time that an appointment should not be made in an election year.
“Today, Monday, October 26th, 2020, will go down as one of the darkest days in the 231-year history of the United States Senate,” Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said on the chamber floor, shortly before the vote.
“Let the record show that tonight the Republican Senate majority decided to thwart the will of the people and confirm a lifetime appointment to the supreme court in the middle of a presidential election after more than 60 million Americans have voted.”
In a statement, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden slammed the president’s decision to appoint a justice in the middle of an election campaign. “The rushed and unprecedented confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett as associate justice to the supreme court, in the middle of an ongoing election, should be a stark reminder to every American that your vote matters,” he said.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi described it as “an act of supreme desperation” by the Republican-controlled Senate, warning that Americans’ healthcare was under threat.
Senator Susan Collins was the only Republican to cross the aisle and vote with Democrats to oppose Ms Barrett’s nomination.
Ms Barrett, who has been a judge since 2017 when she was nominated by Mr Trump to serve on the federal appeals court based in Chicago, was previously an academic at Notre Dame university. A practising Catholic and a favourite of conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation, Ms Barrett was probed on her personal views during her confirmation hearing. She pledged to follow the constitution as written if confirmed.
The appointment of a supreme court justice so close to an election is unprecedented. Members of both parties have been running ads featuring Ms Barrett’s confirmation, with Democrats warning that abortion and contraception rights, as well as the Affordable Care Act – also known as Obamacare – will be threatened by her confirmation.
The court is due to hear oral arguments in a challenge to Obamacare early next month. But Republican senators like Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Joni Ernst are hoping that her confirmation will help motivate conservative voters in their home states as they face tough re-election fights.
Mr Trump paid tribute to both Senate majority leader Mr McConnell and Mr Graham, the chair of the Senate judiciary committee, as he introduced Ms Barrett on Monday night.