The Senate voted to advance the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court on Sunday, clearing the way for the conservative jurist to be confirmed ahead of November’s elections.
The Republican-controlled Senate voted largely along party lines, 51-48, in a procedural measure to “invoke cloture” on Sunday, setting the stage for a final confirmation vote on Monday. Judge Barrett is expected to be swiftly sworn in and take her place as an associate justice, filling the vacancy left by the death of liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg last month.
Judge Barrett’s confirmation will tip the balance of the nine-member bench, 6-3, in favour of conservatives, in what is widely seen by Republicans as a monumental win. Supreme Court justices are appointed to life terms; at 48 years old, Judge Barrett will be the court’s youngest justice.
Two Republican senators — Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — sided with the Democrats on Sunday but are likely to back Judge Barrett’s confirmation on Monday. The self-styled moderates have previously said Judge Barrett’s confirmation vote should not have been held until after election day on November 3.
Kamala Harris, the Democratic senator from California and Joe Biden’s running mate, was campaigning in Michigan and did not vote.
With one-third of the 100-member Senate up for grabs during this election cycle, Ms Collins is one of many Republican senators under threat of losing their seats. Ms Collins trails her Democratic challenger, Sara Gideon, by a 4.2-point margin, according to the Real Clear Politics average.
If Republicans lose more than a handful of Senate seats, they will cede control of the upper chamber of Congress to the Democrats.
In a nod to that possibility, Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican, said on Sunday on the Senate floor: “We have made an important contribution to the future of this country. A lot of what we have done over the past four years, will be undone, sooner or later, by the next election. [They] won’t be able to do much about this for a long time to come.”
Democrats have taken issue with Judge Barrett’s nomination from the start, accusing Republicans of hypocrisy in pushing through her confirmation process so close to an election. Four years ago, Mr McConnell refused to consider Merrick Garland, Barack Obama’s pick to replace the late Antonin Scalia.
“For Republicans to proceed now, just eight days before an election, undermines the integrity and independence of the vote,” Dianne Feinstein, the senator from California and top Democrat on the Senate judiciary committee, said on Sunday. “Senate Republicans are breaking their own statements and promises by proceeding.”
Ed Markey, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts, said on Twitter: “Amy Coney Barrett could be the most qualified judge in America and I would still vote against her nomination because this process is not legitimate.”