But how long will new conservative leaning last?
By Ricky Browne
Just eight days before the US national election, the Senate has confirmed yesterday that Judge Amy Coney Barrett (ACB) is now a justice on the Supreme Court.
She received 52 votes with 48 votes against. All 52 votes were from Republican senators, while all but one of the ‘Nays” were Democrat. The one dissenting Republican was Susan Collins , who is positioned to lose her Maine seat, the way things are currently looking.
A ceremony for ACB was held on the South Lawn at the White House on Monday evening, where Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas administered the constitutional oath to the new 48-year-old Justice .
Justice Thomas is the Supreme Court’s first Black Justice and is the longest-serving member of Court — himself a Republican-appointed justice.
President Trump spoke at the event, with several Republican senators present, and thanked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and saying it was a “momentous day” for America. the constitution and fair and impartial rule of law.
“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,” he said.
There are traditionally nine judges on the Supreme Court, with Presidents having the opportunity to nominate replacements whenever a seat is empty.
President Donald Trump has already nominated two supreme court judges in his term, — Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 — but the court still had a strong liberal minority, with justices who were appointed during Democratic terms.
That changed in September when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg (RBG) finally died after a long illness with cancer. As a liberal-leaning judge, it meant that the balance in the court was now six conservative-leaning judges to three liberal.
The appointment of a Trump-nominated justice would mean that the court would have its first conservative-leaning majority in decades. This was of great concern to Democrats, who sought to prevent the nomination from being decided upon, as the election is so close.
Their argument was pretty close to the same argument that Republicans used back in 2016, to prevent hearings for then-President Barack Obama nominee Merrick Garland in an election year. But the senate was Republican-then too, so the argument against held.
This time around, the argument had little chance of sticking and legally there was nothing to prevent the Republican-run senate from moving ahead with the nomination.
RBG herself had wanted anything but having her seat transferred under a Republican administration and had stayed in office till the very end, even though she was battling cancer and was well in her 80s. She and many of her supporters hoped that she would be able to hang on until after the election and hopefully after the inauguration, when she could step down, safe in the knowledge that a Democratic president would have the power to replace her with another liberal-leaning justice.
“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” she is said to have written to her granddaughter.
But fate had other plans.
In the US system, unlike most other territories including the UK which have a retirement age, Supreme Court Justices can remain in their position for life.
With the opportunity to nominate a third justice, Trump was careful to choose someone who was as blemish-free as possible, and who would be so clean that any mud slinging wouldnt be able to stick.
He found that with ACB, who is a woman, a mother with several children including two adopted Haitian children, and an legal career and education that few people can say anything against.
But she is also a religious Roman Catholic, and belongs to a small religious group. Many Democrat supporters hoped that this might be enough to make her an unattractive nominee. But it was not, because one, Republicans were not going to risk losing this chance to turn the court under any conditions, and two, Republicans really don’t see much wrong with someone having strong Christian beliefs.
“The oath that I have solemnly taken tonight means at its core that I will do my job without any fear or favour and I will do so independently of both the political branches and of my own preferences,” she said at her oath taking ceremony.
One of her first cases may be to sort out the election results if they end up being very close. But many supporters of abortion fear that she will perhaps be open to overturning ‘Roe vs Wade’ which legalised abortion in the 1973.
Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris, have avoided answering questions on whether they will stack the court with Democratic nominees if elected. Although the court only has nine justices, there is room for up to six more. It the Democrats did that it would naturally overturn the current conservative-leaning court.
If the Democrats do win the Presidency and the Senate and decide to go down this route, they will be doing something that RBG herself rejected.
“Nine seems to be a good number. It’s been that way for a long time,” RBG said in an interview in 2019,, adding, “I think it was a bad idea when President Franklin Roosevelt tried to pack the court.”
But consistency in argument has never really been much of a thing in politics, even politics relating to the Supreme Court.
And the issue might be, if the Democrats do stack the court so that there are more liberal-leaning justices than conservative ones, to maybe nine to six, what would prevent the Republicans from doing the same thing when they return to power?