U.S. Senate Republicans on Thursday successfully scheduled a committee vote on Judge Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the Supreme Court, plowing past objections from Democrats such as Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who slammed the proceedings as a "caricature of illegitimacy."
Leahy's comments were wedged between two separate votes Thursday morning, the verdicts of which all but ensured the high-speed train that is Barrett's confirmation would reach its destination before Election Day.
The GOP-controlled Judiciary Committee twice voted along party lines to both strike down a Democratic attempt to delay the hearing indefinitely and to schedule Barrett's confirmation vote for October 22.
If the committee decides to advance her nomination that day, the full Senate could vote as soon as October 26 — eight days before the November 3 election. Senate GOP leaders say they have the votes to confirm.
"There's really no way to gloss over how wrong and base this process is," Leahy said, participating in the hearing remotely for the fourth straight day over health concerns related to the coronavirus.
"The damage inflicted in the wake of this outrageous power grab is going to be considerable, perhaps even irreparable, both to the U.S. Senate and to the federal judiciary," he said. "It doesn't have to be this way. This doesn't have to be the story of Judge Barrett's nomination."
Senate Democrats have argued that allowing Barrett to replace the late justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will whiplash the high court rightward, lead to limits on abortion rights, grant President Donald Trump an ally in any potential disputes over the election, and effectively kill the Affordable Care Act.
Leahy repeatedly questioned Barrett earlier this week on the latter two issues, and he used his comments on Thursday to drive home the point. He argued that previous comments Barrett has made about the Affordable Care Act show that she would not hesitate to strike it down if she had the chance. And he criticized the nominee for refusing to say whether she would recuse herself from any cases involving the presidential election, since Trump has said he expects his nominee to side with him in any such disputes.
"President Trump is always one to say the quiet part out loud — often very loudly," Leahy said. "He's made it impossible for Americans not to question Judge Barrett's impartiality if she has to vote on such a case as a justice."
Yet Leahy reserved his harshest criticisms for his Republican colleagues. He called them out for what he and many other Democrats view as barefaced hypocrisy in how they have handled Barrett's nomination, noting that the same senators now racing toward confirmation were complicit four years ago in stonewalling president Barack Obama's high court nominee Merrick Garland on the grounds that it was too close to a presidential election. "Republicans who served on this committee said they would vote for [Garland] until a Republican leader told them to shut up," Leahy said, noting Garland was nominated a full 10 months before the 2016 election. "And that's why Republicans are diminishing the committee — and the Senate — into a mindless rubber stamp now."
"In their pursuit of raw power, in their drive to deprive millions of Americans of basic health care protections, Republicans are willing to shred every principle this place once stood for," he later said.
Leahy — who has witnessed 20 Supreme Court nominations during his 46 years on the Judiciary Committee — also took the panel's leadership to task for failing to allow adequate time to vet the nominee.
He pointed to a CNN report from Wednesday night that showed Barrett did not disclose on her Senate paperwork at least seven talks she gave while she was a professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School, including one with the school's anti-abortion group. The revelation came just days after it was reported that she had given two other talks to anti-abortion student groups that she also did not disclose in her paperwork.
Nominees are required to disclose all public talks they have given in their professional careers.
Leahy said he did not believe that Barrett intentionally omitted the talks. But he argued that omissions were the result of a sloppy and incomplete process.
"There is no reason why these deficiencies can't be cured," Leahy said. "There's no reason why this nomination can't be delayed. If President Trump wins reelection in a couple of weeks, we'll then take up Judge Barrett's nomination in January. That process would be legitimate. This one is not."