The US Senate has confirmed Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court in a victory for President Donald Trump a week before the general election.
Mr Trump’s fellow Republicans voted 52-48 to approve the judge, overcoming the unified opposition of Democrats.
The 48-year-old took the oath of office at the White House alongside President Trump.
Her appointment seals for the foreseeable future a 6-3 conservative majority on the top US judicial body.
Only one Republican, Senator Susan Collins, who faces a tough re-election battle in Maine, voted against the president’s nominee in Monday evening’s vote.
The new justice is the third appointed by the Republican president, after Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.
The federal appeals court judge from Indiana fills the vacancy left by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal icon who died last month.
What happened at the White House?
President Trump, just returned from campaigning in Pennsylvania, presided over Justice Barrett’s swearing-in ceremony on Monday night.
Mr Trump said: “This is a momentous day for America, for the United States constitution and for the fair and impartial rule of law.”
He added: “She is one of our nation’s most brilliant legal scholars and she will make an outstanding justice on the highest court in our land.”
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a conservative, administered the oath of office to his new colleague.
Justice Barrett said afterwards: “A judge declares independence not only from the Congress and the president, but also from the private beliefs that might otherwise move her.
“The judicial oath captures the essence of the judicial duty: the rule of law must always control.”
The ceremony took place on the south lawn of the executive mansion, a month after a similar event to unveil Justice Barrett as the president’s nominee was linked to a Covid-19 outbreak that was followed by the president himself testing positive for the disease.
Who is Amy Coney Barrett?
• Favoured by social conservatives due to record on issues like abortion and gay marriage
• An originalist, which means interpreting US Constitution as authors intended, not moving with the time
• A devout Catholic, she lives in Indiana and has seven children, including two adopted from Haiti
What cases are coming up for Justice Barrett?
Justice Barrett could cast a decisive vote in a number of looming cases, including a Trump-backed challenge to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, on 10 November.
A previous ruling by Justice Barrett on Obamacare has alarmed advocates of the healthcare programme.
And her past writings on abortion have triggered liberal warnings that the 1973 Supreme Court decision which legalised abortion nationwide could be overruled.
Also coming up on the top court’s docket are decisions on deadlines for accepting postal ballots in the critical presidential election states of North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
Raising the stakes on Monday, the Supreme Court rejected a request to allow postal ballots received beyond election day in Wisconsin, another state through which the electoral road to the White House could lie.
How did Democrats react?
Democrats argued for weeks that it should be up to the winner of the 3 November election to pick the nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy.
But Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said on Monday: “We don’t have any doubt, do we, that if the shoe was on the other foot, they’d be confirming. You can’t win them all, and elections have consequences.”
Democrats have threatened to retaliate by court-packing – which would entail expanding the number of justices on the nine-seat Supreme Court – if they win the White House and control of the Senate next week.
Joe Biden, the Democratic election challenger to Mr Trump, has refused to make clear whether he favours such a step, which could transform the third branch of US government. Mr Biden said last week he would appoint a bipartisan commission to study whether an overhaul of the judiciary was necessary.
On Monday night, the left-wing of his party called for the more radical move. “Expand the court,” tweeted self-described democratic socialist New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The former Democratic leader of the Senate, Harry Reid, is meanwhile pressing Mr Biden, if Democrats are victorious next week, to go for the so-called nuclear option and scrap the filibuster, the decades-old practice of requiring 60 votes to advance legislation, allowing all bills instead to pass by a simple majority of 51.
When Democrats led the Senate, Mr Reid ended the filibuster for federal judicial nominees. Then, when Republicans took control, Mr McConnell went a step further by scrapping the procedure for Supreme Court nominees. – BBC News
AP/UNB adds: Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to the Supreme Court late Monday by a deeply divided Senate, with Republicans overpowering Democrats to install President Donald Trump’s nominee days before the election and secure a likely conservative court majority for years to come.
Trump’s choice to fill the vacancy of the late liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg potentially opens a new era of rulings on abortion, the Affordable Care Act and even his own election. Democrats were unable to stop the outcome, Trump’s third justice on the court, as Republicans race to reshape the judiciary.
Barrett, 48, will be able to start work Tuesday, her lifetime appointment as the 115th justice solidifying the court’s rightward tilt.
“This is a momentous day for America,” Trump said at a primetime swearing-in event on the South Lawn at the White House. Justice Clarence Thomas administered the Constitutional Oath to Barrett before a crowd of about 200.
Barrett told those gathered that she believes “it is the job of a judge to resist her policy preferences.” She vowed, “I will do my job without any fear or favor.”
Monday’s vote was the closest high court confirmation ever to a presidential election, and the first in modern times with no support from the minority party. The spiking COVID-19 crisis has hung over the proceedings. Vice President Mike Pence declined to preside at the Senate unless his tie-breaking vote was needed after Democrats asked him to stay away when his aides tested positive for COVID-19. The vote was 52-48, and Pence’s vote was not necessary.
“Voting to confirm this nominee should make every single senator proud,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, fending off “outlandish” criticism in a lengthy speech. During a rare weekend session he declared that Barrett’s opponents “won’t be able to do much about this for a long time to come.”
Barrett, a federal appeals court judge from Indiana, is expected to take the judicial oath administered by Chief Justice John Roberts in a private ceremony Tuesday at the court to begin participating in proceedings.
Underscoring the political divide during the pandemic, the Republican senators, most wearing masks, sat in their seats as is tradition for landmark votes, and applauded the outcome, with fist-bumps. Democratic senators emptied their side, heeding party leadership’s advice to not linger in the chamber. A Rose Garden event with Trump to announce Barrett’s nomination last month ended up spreading the virus, including to some GOP senators who have since returned from quarantine.
Pence’s presence would have been expected for a high-profile moment. But Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and his leadership team said it would not only violate virus guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “it would also be a violation of common decency and courtesy.”
Democrats argued for weeks that the vote was being improperly rushed and insisted during an all-night Sunday session it should be up to the winner of the Nov. 3 election to name the nominee.
Speaking near midnight Sunday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., called the vote “illegitimate” and “the last gasp of a desperate party.”
Several matters are awaiting decision just a week before Election Day, and Barrett could be a decisive vote in Republican appeals of orders extending the deadlines for absentee ballots in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
The justices also are weighing Trump’s emergency plea for the court to prevent the Manhattan District Attorney from acquiring his tax returns. And on Nov. 10, the court is expected to hear the Trump-backed challenge to the Obama-era Affordable Care Act. Just before the Senate voted, the court sided with Republicans in refusing to extend the deadline for absentee ballots in Wisconsin.
Trump has said he wanted to swiftly install a ninth justice to resolve election disputes and is hopeful the justices will end the health law known as “Obamacare.”
In a statement, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden tied Barrett’s nomination to the court to the Republican effort to pull down the Affordable Care Act. He called her confirmation “rushed and unprecedented” and a stark reminder to Americans that “your vote matters.”
During several days of public testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Barrett was careful not to disclose how she would rule on any such cases.
She presented herself as a neutral arbiter and suggested, “It’s not the law of Amy.” But her writings against abortion and a ruling on “Obamacare” show a deeply conservative thinker.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, praised the mother of seven as a role model for conservative women. “This is historic,” Graham said.
Republicans focused on her Catholic faith, criticizing earlier Democratic questions about her beliefs. Graham called Barrett “unabashedly pro-life.”
At the start of Trump’s presidency, McConnell engineered a Senate rules change to allow confirmation by a majority of the 100 senators, rather than the 60-vote threshold traditionally needed to advance high court nominees over objections. That was an escalation of a rules change Democrats put in place to advance other court and administrative nominees under President Barack Obama.
Republicans are taking a political plunge days from the Nov. 3 election with the presidency and their Senate majority at stake.
Only one Republican — Sen. Susan Collins, who is in a tight reelection fight in Maine — voted against the nominee, not over any direct assessment of Barrett. Rather, Collins said, “I do not think it is fair nor consistent to have a Senate confirmation vote prior to the election.”
Trump and his Republican allies had hoped for a campaign boost, in much the way Trump generated excitement among conservatives and evangelical Christians in 2016 over a court vacancy. That year, McConnell refused to allow the Senate to consider then-President Barack Obama’s choice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, arguing the new president should decide.
Most other Republicans facing tough races embraced the nominee who clerked for the late Scalia to bolster their standing with conservatives. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said in a speech Monday that Barrett will “go down in history as one of the great justices.”
But it’s not clear the extraordinary effort to install the new justice over such opposition in a heated election year will pay political rewards to the GOP.
Demonstrations for and against the nominee have been more muted at the Capitol under coronavirus restrictions.
Democrats were unified against Barrett. While two Democratic senators voted to confirm Barrett in 2017 after Trump nominated the Notre Dame Law School professor to the appellate court, none voted to confirm her to the high court.
In a display of party priorities, California Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, returned to Washington from the campaign trail to join colleagues with a no vote.
No other Supreme Court justice has been confirmed on a recorded vote with no support from the minority party in at least 150 years, according to information provided by the Senate Historical Office.