A bitterly divided U.S. Senate on Monday night confirmed Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, overriding protests from Democrats who warned that doing so just eight days before a presidential election would jeopardize the integrity of America's highest institutions.
The 52-48 vote fell almost entirely among party lines, with all but one Republican — Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) — voting to confirm. Vermont Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) voted no as part of a unified Democratic front opposed to Barrett's confirmation for reasons of both policy and principle.
During a 15-minute speech Sunday on the Senate floor, Leahy said he believed Barrett would "set the clock back decades on all of the rights that Americans have fought so hard to achieve and protect." And taking aim at his GOP colleagues, he said, "The Republican arguments come down to one thing: 'We have the votes, so anything goes.' Yet having the power to do something does not make it right."
Sanders echoed those comments a day later, writing on Twitter that Barrett's confirmation process amounted to nothing less than a "illegitimate power grab" by Republicans.
“Today is a shameful day for our democracy," he wrote.
Barrett's confirmation comes as more than 60 million Americans have already cast ballots for the November 3 election. Her ascension to the high court gives conservatives a 6-3 advantage and marks President Donald Trump's third successful nomination, handing him a much-needed win in the waning days of a reelection bid that finds him trailing in national polls to Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
The White House planned to celebrate Barrett's confirmation with a swearing-in ceremony Monday night, roughly a month after it announced her nomination at another, larger gathering — one now known to be a coronavirus super-spreader event.
Throughout Barrett's confirmation hearings, Democrats have depicted her as a threat to legal abortion, voting rights and the Affordable Care Act.
Employing a colorful metaphor, Leahy said Republicans' single-minded obsession with destroying the ACA, also known as Obamacare, was much like that of Captain Ahab's pursuit of Moby Dick.
Barrett, in the eyes of the GOP, represents the “final harpoon" to end it once and for all, Leahy said.
The dean of the Senate also used his remarks to chastise his Republican colleagues for taking up Barrett's nomination instead of another coronavirus relief package. And he once again registered indignation at the GOP's willingness to fill the seat despite flatly refusing to do so on another vacancy early in 2016 — on the grounds that it was too close to that year's presidential election.
"Every senator knows in their heart this is wrong," Leahy said.
Republicans, meantime, have argued that they have exercised their constitutional powers in both cases. "Elections have consequences," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said just before Monday's vote.
The fight to replace the late justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has only deepened Washington's partisan divide, with Monday's vote marking the first time in recent memory that one party has entirely opposed a nominee's confirmation. Aside from the political ramifications of Barrett's confirmation, there are immediate, real-world implications to having a 6-3 conservative court.
The Supreme Court must soon act on a pair of election disputes involving absentee ballots in two battleground states. And next month, Barrett and her fellow justices will begin hearing cases on same-sex couples, the president's immigration plans and the Affordable Care Act. She could also potentially preside over any legal challenges to the results of the presidential election.
Barrett scrupulously ducked questions during her confirmation hearings about how she might rule in any potential cases. She also refused to say whether she would recuse herself from any election cases involving Trump in light of the president's comments about how he expects his nominee to side with him in any such disputes.
Leahy, who pressed Barrett on the issue of recusal during a chance to question her earlier this month, argued that the president has made it "impossible" for Americans not to question her impartiality.
As he raised the matter again Sunday, he struck an ominous note. "If a Justice Barrett votes to throw the election for President Trump," Leahy said in his closing argument, "I fear not just the court but our democracy itself would suffer an existential blow to its legitimacy."