President Donald Trump on Saturday said he is nominating Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative federal appeals court judge, to succeed the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the US Supreme Court, setting off a fierce partisan battle in the waning days of a hotly contested presidential election.
Calling it a “very proud moment indeed,” Trump called Barrett a woman of “towering intellect” and “unyielding loyalty to the Constitution” who would rule “based solely on the fair reading of the law.”
In a flag-bedecked Rose Garden designed to mimic Ginsburg’s own nomination ceremony in 1993, Trump recounted Barrett’s educational and professional background, noted her seven children and hailed her ties to another late Supreme Court justice, Antonin Scalia, for whom she clerked.
“I looked and I studied and you are very eminently qualified for this job,” Trump told his nominee. “You are going to be fantastic.”
Barrett, Trump declared before an audience that included Scalia’s widow, Republican senators and several figures from the conservative media, is “one of our nation’s most brilliant and gifted legal minds.”
In her own remarks, Barrett offered only a glimpse of what type of justice she would be and did not delve into specifics.
“A judge must apply the law as written,” she said. “Judges are not policy makers.”
Instead she sought to cast herself as a public servant – one who, at 48, could potentially serve on the court for decades.
“If confirmed, I would not assume that role for the sake of those in my own circle, and certainly not for my own sake, I would assume this role to serve you,” she said.
The nomination comes at a critical time in history, as the President openly questions the integrity of the upcoming election and has not committed to a peaceful transfer of power in the event he loses. He’s repeatedly said that the Supreme Court needed to have all nine seats filled ahead of Election Day, in case the court needed to weigh in on the legality of mail-in ballots being sent to Americans across the country amid the coronavirus pandemic. And several weighty cases loom on the immediate horizon, should she be confirmed as swiftly as Republicans hope, including one that could determine the fate of the Affordable Care Act.
Trump seemed to momentarily shrug off the looming battle, even if Barrett herself said Saturday she was under no illusions about how difficult her confirmation might be.
“This should be a straightforward and prompt confirmation,” Trump said. “I’m sure it will be extremely non-controversial. We said that last time, didn’t we?”
But Democrats were already writing off her nomination, which had been widely expected.
“By nominating Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, President Trump has once again put Americans’ healthcare in the crosshairs,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer wrote in a statement, adding a vote for Barrett amounted to “a vote to strike down the Affordable Care Act.”
Barrett was appointed by Trump to the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017 and advocates on the right have backed her nomination because of her writings on faith and the law. The 7th Circuit is based in Chicago and covers cases from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. If her Senate confirmation is successful before the November election, the appointment would mark Trump’s third US Supreme Court pick in one presidential term, cementing a conservative stronghold in the court for a generation.
Meet Amy Coney Barrett
Barrett graduated from – and now works part-time as a professor at – Notre Dame Law School. She was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and now lives in South Bend, Indiana, with her husband Jesse M. Barrett.
Following Ginsburg’s death last week, Trump expressed eagerness to appoint her replacement, arguing that he had a constitutional duty to fill her seat and committed to appointing a female nominee. Barrett will be the fifth woman ever appointed to the court and second conservative, if confirmed.
In the week Trump deliberated his latest Supreme Court choice, Barrett, once a finalist for the Supreme Court spot that went to Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, emerged as the favorite among his shortlist, after meeting with the President at the White House, according to sources familiar.
Barrett’s Senate nomination process is set to begin swiftly as conservatives aim to seat her before Election Day.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham said that Barrett’s confirmation hearing would begin Monday, October 12, according to a statement released Saturday night.
Two Republican senators have said they do not support voting on the nomination of a Supreme Court justice ahead of the election, but now that Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney has signaled that he is on board with moving ahead with a vote, Barrett’s likely to be confirmed barring any potential missteps.
Since joining the appellate bench, Barrett has been a cautious jurist, plainly aware that she remains under a national microscope for any Supreme Court confirmation battle. Still, she has demonstrated her conservative bona fides on Second Amendment gun rights, immigration and abortion – positions Democrats are poised to voice opposition against in upcoming confirmation hearings.
Last year, she dissented alone when a 7th Circuit panel majority rejected a Second Amendment challenge from a man found guilty of felony mail fraud and prohibited from possessing a firearm under federal and Wisconsin law.
In 2018, she joined a dissent with fellow conservatives in an Indiana abortion dispute and referred to a provision that made it unlawful for physicians to perform an abortion because of the race, sex or disability of the fetus was a “eugenics statute.”
More recently in June, she dissented as a 7th Circuit panel left intact a US district court decision temporarily blocking a Trump policy that disadvantaged green card applicants who apply for any public assistance.
And religious conservatives were especially energized by an exchange with Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, during Barrett’s 2017 confirmation hearing for her current judgeship.
In a tense back-and-forth, the Democratic senator sharply questioned whether the judicial nominee could separate her Catholic views from her legal opinions.
“The conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” Feinstein pointedly said. “And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.”
Barrett supporters believed the nominee was being disparaged for her Catholicism. But Democrats said the exchange was in reference to Barrett’s own writings on the topic that had prompted questions from both parties – and concerns from progressives that she would chip away at abortion rights.
At the hearing, Barrett testified that her religious beliefs would not interfere with her rulings as a federal judge. But Democrats, including Feinstein, were not convinced, worried that Barrett’s views meant that she would strike against abortion rights as a federal judge.
Should Barrett be confirmed before Election Day or shortly thereafter, one of her earliest cases would be on the latest Obamacare challenge. The court is scheduled to hear that case on November 10.
Barrett has also cast doubt on the Affordable Care Act, authoring a 2017 law review essay which criticized Chief Justice John Roberts’ legal rationale for saving the law.
This story has been updated to include confirmation of the October 12 hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
CNN’s Joan Biskupic, Manu Raju, Gregory Clary and Christian Sierra contributed to this report.