Trump Plans to Nominate Amy Coney Barrett to Fill Supreme Court Vacancy

By Catherine Lucey and Kristina Peterson

WASHINGTON—President Trump has told congressional Republicans and others he intends to name Amy Coney Barrett, a solidly conservative judge with strong Republican support, as his choice for the Supreme Court, according to people familiar with the decision. The move will set up a politically charged confirmation battle in the weeks before Election Day, as he seeks to bolster a right-leaning court.

Judge Barrett, 48 years old, a member of the Chicago-based Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is a former law clerk for the late Justice Antonin Scalia. A finalist for a previous Supreme Court opening that went to Justice Brett Kavanaugh, she was seen as a likely choice given her conservative credentials and the president’s desire to nominate a woman to succeed the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The White House didn’t comment. People close to the White House cautioned that the decision won’t be final until Mr. Trump makes the official announcement, which is scheduled for Saturday at 5 p.m. Eastern time.

Mr. Trump told reporters Friday at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, D.C., that he had made a decision “in my own mind” but declined to elaborate. Told it was being reported that Judge Barrett got the nod, Mr. Trump responded, “I haven’t said that…I haven’t said it was her but she is outstanding.”

While Mr. Trump didn’t reveal his choice Friday, Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas), who sits on the Judiciary Committee, tweeted that Judge Barrett was a “legal trailblazer” and said he looks “forward to meeting with her in the coming days as the Judiciary Committee prepares for her confirmation hearing.”

Also under consideration has been federal appellate Judge Barbara Lagoa, a Cuban-American who spent the bulk of her judicial career in Florida’s state courts. Mr. Trump said Friday he hadn’t met with her while in Florida this week.

Justice Ginsburg, an advocate for women’s equality and leader of the court’s liberal wing, was honored in the U.S. Capitol in a private ceremony Friday. Her death from metastatic pancreatic cancer at the age of 87 prompted widespread public mourning.

The president’s nomination will kick off a likely speedy but bitter confirmation process, with Senate Republicans looking to confirm with a narrow majority before the November elections. Even before being named, Mr. Trump’s pick has likely already cleared the biggest political hurdle in the GOP-controlled Senate, securing the support of all but two of the chamber’s 53 Republicans to vote on a nominee this year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) can lose no more than three Republicans to confirm the nominee, since Vice President Mike Pence can cast a tiebreaking vote.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is preparing a fast-paced schedule that would confirm the new justice by Nov. 3, a move many GOP lawmakers say is crucial in the case of delayed or disputed election results. The nominee—Mr. Trump’s third to the court—could shift the balance of power to the right for decades, with possible implications on a range of policy questions, including health care and abortion.

One of the court’s biggest pending cases, set for argument the week after the election, involves the future of the Affordable Care Act, the Obama-era health law. If a conservative-leaning judge is seated in time for that argument, she would vote on a case that could bring the entire law’s downfall after a lower court found the mandate to carry health insurance unconstitutional because Congress lowered to zero the tax penalty for failing to maintain coverage.

“The stakes are very real to people if the court invalidates the entirety of the Affordable Care Act a week after the election,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) “The stakes are very real if this court criminalizes abortion.”

Democrats contend that the American public should vote before a new justice is nominated, noting that Republicans made the same assertion when they refused to consider President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, after Justice Scalia’s death in 2016. But they have few options given that the GOP appears to have enough votes to move forward. Republicans say the situation in 2016 was different because control of the Senate and White House was split between the two parties. Only two GOP senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, are opposed to holding a vote on the nominee this year. Ms. Collins has said she would vote no on a nominee before the election.

Mr. McConnell, who has said he considers confirmation of conservative judges central to his legacy, has promised a vote on the president’s nominee. The White House began reaching out to senators to set up meetings, which are expected to begin early next week, aides said Friday.

The Judiciary Committee could hold hearings the week of Oct. 10. The committee could potentially approve the nomination by Oct. 22, and a full Senate vote could happen around Oct. 26. Election Day is Nov. 3.

“There’s plenty of time,” Sen. John Kennedy (R., La.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said this week.

Adding to the partisan tension, Mr. Trump has indicated that he wants another judge installed before the election in case a dispute over the results lands before the court, telling reporters at the White House this week: “I think this will end up in the Supreme Court. And I think it’s very important that we have nine justices.”

The president has repeatedly suggested, without offering evidence, that mail-in ballots will result in widespread fraud benefiting Democrats. Democratic leaders have said such comments seek to undermine democracy and that teams of lawyers are in place to make sure all votes are fairly counted.

“The results of the election must be accepted. The peaceful transfer of power must follow,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said on the Senate floor this week.

Coming just weeks before final votes are cast, Mr. Trump has seized on the court vacancy during his campaign appearances in an effort to galvanize Republicans and change the subject from what polls have shown is widespread frustration over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and racial justice protests.


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