Trump nominates Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. What happens next in Senate confirmation process
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has named Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg seat on the Supreme Court, kicking off a battle on Capitol Hill as Republicans try to confirm the judge, aiming to do so before the Nov. 3 presidential election.
If the process for the nominee looks anything like it did for previous Supreme Court nominees, there will be four days of Senate committee hearings and then a final confirmation vote by the full 100-member Senate.
The Senate is expected to begin confirmation hearings Oct. 12, two Capitol Hill sources confirmed to USA TODAY.
Here’s what to know about the process in Congress for confirming a Supreme Court justice:
Vetting by the Senate Judiciary Committee
In past confirmations, the nominee would face a lengthy vetting process by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the panel charged with examining judicial appointments.
Typically, this process can take two months. It includes hearings, one-on-one meetings between senators and the nominee, an FBI background examination of the nominee, document requests and in-depth questioning over the nominee's views on a host of issues that could be taken up by the Supreme Court.
Will Senate confirm Barrett by Nov. 3?:Republicans have said they want to confirm Amy Coney Barrett before Election Day. Here's how long other confirmations took
The process could be longer if there are hiccups, such as an issue in the nominee's background. For example, the nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh was delayed by allegations of sexual assault and took three months in 2018.
After meetings and hearings, the panel votes on whether to send the nomination to the full Senate. Sending the nominee out of committee only requires a simple majority of members on the 22-person panel, which is composed of 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats.
The hearings start Oct. 12:Senate hearings for Amy Coney Barrett to begin Oct. 12 as Republicans eye Election Day
Who are key members on the Senate Judiciary Committee?
The Judiciary Committee is chaired by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and its top Democrat is Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Several senators on the Judiciary Committee are up for reelection this year, including several Republicans in swing states who face tight races like Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Thom Tillis of North Carolina. Both Ernst and Tillis have said they support moving forward to fill the court vacancy.
Graham is also up for reelection this year, though his contest leans Republican according to nonpartisan forecasters at the Cook Political Report.
Their tight races mean they will face immense public pressure from both sides of the aisle during the confirmation process. In North Carolina, for example, Tillis' Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham and his campaign have already criticized Tillis for deciding to support Trump's nominee even before she was named. Tillis, for his part, has tied himself closely to the president in hopes it will boost his chances in November. He announced before a Trump rally in North Carolina he supported moving forward on the nominee and would vote to confirm her.
Democrats’ vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., also sits on the committee and is sure to ask pointed questions. Progressives praised her questioning of Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings. The televised hearings offer her a high-profile platform during the final stretch of the presidential campaign.
Judiciary members up for reelection:Who on the Senate Judiciary Committee faces reelection in November
What have senators said about filling the seat?
Republican senators appear to have the support to move forward with the nomination process and fill the seat before Election Day.
Democrats wanted to hold off on the vote until after Election Day in the hopes Democratic nominee Joe Biden wins the presidency and Democrats take control of the Senate. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who had previously been thought of as a swing vote, announced his support for moving forward on a nominee earlier this week, an indicator Republicans have the votes necessary to advance the confirmation process.
Democrats acknowledged they do not have the votes to block the nominee from moving forward. Feinstein said Thursday she did not “have the power” to stop a nominee, though she opposed Trump’s efforts to fill the seat before a new president was inaugurated.
Senators normally hold one-on-one meetings with the nominee, but some Democrats say they will forgo the process altogether. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Thursday he would refuse to meet with any nominee put forward before the election. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, also a member of the panel, told NPR on Tuesday she would consider boycotting the confirmation hearings altogether.
More:Top Senate Judiciary Democrat Feinstein says she doesn't 'ha ve the power' to block Trump's Supreme Court nominee
After Trump announced Barrett as his nominee, Democratic senators lined up in opposition as Republicans praised the pick. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement that he would "strongly oppose this nomination."
"The American people should make no mistake – a vote by any Senator for Judge Amy Coney Barrett is a vote to strike down the Affordable Care Act and eliminate protections for millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called Barrett an "exceptionally impressive jurist and an exceedingly well-qualified nominee."
"I look forward to meeting with the nominee next week and will carefully study her record and credentials. As I have stated, this nomination will receive a vote on the Senate floor in the weeks ahead," McConnell said. "The Court, the Senate, and the American people — not to mention the nominee and her family — deserve a fair process that is focused on Judge Barrett’s qualifications. I hope all 100 Senators will treat this serious process with the dignity and respect it should command."
A final vote in the Senate
After the Senate Judiciary Committee approves Barrett, the full Senate would then be tasked with voting on her.
To clear the 100-member body, the nominee will need a simple majority — or 51 votes. The GOP holds a slight 53-47 majority, meaning they cannot lose four votes since a 50-50 tie would be broken by Vice President Mike Pence.
Republicans appear to have the votes to pass Trump’s nominee, with only two GOP members of the body, Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, saying they do not support approving the pick before voters weigh in on Election Day.
Democrats have been publicly chiding Republicans for moving forward on a nominee so close to an election and for halting a similar Democratic effort in 2016.
Many Republicans voiced concerns four years ago when President Barack Obama named Judge Merrick Garland to the court in an election year, causing Democrats to accuse those same senators of hypocrisy for supporting Trump's nominee.
Who is Amy Coney Barrett?:Talented judge, popular professor brings solid conservative credentials
But there is little Democrats can really do to halt the nomination.
Some Democrats urged party leadership to pursue last-ditch measures like launching another impeachment probe or shutting down the government to stall the Senate, but Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have poured cold water on those proposals.
Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., who faces a tough re-election bid in a red state, told reporters at a virtual press conference Friday "the outcome is baked in," adding, "it's unfortunate, but there's just essentially very little people can do except stand up and speak out and remind the American people that their vote matters, that their vote counts."
How long does this take?
The average length of Supreme Court confirmations since 1975 is about 70 days from the submission of the nomination to the final vote, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.
If Republicans want to confirm a new justice by Election Day, which they have indicated, they would need to move far quicker than past confirmations. There are just 38 days to Nov. 3.
Ginsburg was confirmed in 50 days from the announcement of her nomination to the Senate’s final vote in June 1993.
Here’s how long it took from the time of the nomination announcement to confirmation for the current judges on the Supreme Court:
- Kavanaugh: 89 days
- Gorsuch: 66 days
- Kagan: 87 days
- Sotomayor: 72 days
- Alito: 92 days
- Roberts: 72 days
- Breyer: 77 days
- Thomas: 106 days
McConnell, however, says past precedent allows for a speedy Senate confirmation process before the election, and Graham has said the Senate has the votes to do so.
More:Supreme Court: How the nomination and confirmation processes work
How will this affect the election?
Both Republicans and Democrats have sought to use the court fight as an election issue in the weeks leading up to November. The court is among the planned topics for the first presidential debate between Trump and Biden on Tuesday, and will likely play a large role in the run-up to the election.
Asked about Trump's pending nominee in a Friday interview on "CBS This Morning with Gayle King," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi linked the nomination to potentially contentious rulings before the court on health care and election-related matters.
"I just want people to know what the case is because, if the Republicans insist on going forward, then there has to be a price to pay," she said. Pelosi noted the court was set to hear arguments on the Affordable Care Act soon, and could potentially weigh in on election-related matters as well.
More:Trump says he wants to fill Supreme Court seat quickly in case justices need to settle election dispute
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"This rush to judgment is about health care and destroying the Affordable Care Act and the mandate to health care covering pre-existing conditions," Jones said Friday.
Trump has said he wants to fill the seat quickly so the Court can rule on election-related disputes, and Republicans are enthused by the prospect of tilting the court further to the right with a 6-3 conservative majority.
"My liberal friends have over many decades gotten very used to the idea of having a liberal court. And that's not written in the stars," Romney said earlier this week.
Polling shows that voters on both sides of the aisle are energized by a fight over the Supreme Court. Both sides have cut ads about the court and are trying to rally partisans around the issue. Democratic candidates and progressive groups are racking up fundraising records, voter registration is increasing, and the Trump campaign is already selling "Fill That Seat" T-shirts.