Senate Republicans are unified enough that President Donald Trump can expect to get his nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, on the Supreme Court in a matter of weeks.
Despite polling showing public opinion is against them moving forward, as well as their own opposition to filling a vacancy in an election year in 2016, Republicans see the opportunity to firm up the court’s conservative majority as too good to pass up. And there’s nothing in the Constitution or the rules of the Senate preventing them from doing so.
Getting enough support from enough Republican senators to move forward was the first and possibly biggest hurdle, but there’s still a process they have to go through to put Barrett on the court. As we saw with Trump’s 2018 nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, the unforeseen can slow that process. Here’s what we can expect now that Trump has selected his nominee.
Barrett will face about three days of hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee. It’s controlled by Republicans who want this nominee to succeed, but she will also have to answer questions from Democrats on the committee who are frustrated this hearing is happening at all, including Democrats’ vice-presidential nominee, Kamala Harris, D-Calif.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., he has sketched out a potential timeline that could get the whole nomination done days before the election, with the hearings starting Oct. 12 and lasting through Oct. 15. Democrats have some options for delaying the hearing by a few hours or a day or two, in the hopes they can drag this process out until after the election, when they have a chance to win back the Senate majority.
Any delays won’t change the fact that Republicans in the Judiciary Committee will probably have enough votes to send her nomination on for a full Senate vote. Once it’s on the Senate floor, Democrats can slow the process further by requiring 30 hours of extra debate on her nomination and delaying regular Senate order. But all that would also take up only a few hours or days at most.
Once the Senate does get to a final vote, just 50 Republican votes out of 53 Republican senators is enough to approve the nomination, since Vice President Mike Pence can cast the tie-breaking vote. Only two Republican senators have expressed concerns about voting on a nominee now. Democrats will spend the next few weeks trying to coax other Republicans to their side, but it’s a long shot given how quickly GOP senators fell in line.
The average Supreme Court confirmation process in recent decades has taken two to three months, but this one could be done in a month.
The rush comes with political risks. Democrats have seen a wave of initial enthusiasm in donations and polling since Republicans said they’d push forward with this.
If, for some reason, the nomination vote doesn’t happen until after the election, Republicans could be voting having just lost the White House and Senate majority, which are the very political mandates they relied on to fill this vacancy before an election. (A new Senate majority wouldn’t take over until January, so Republicans could still push this nomination through in the lame-duck session.)
Democrats lowered the number of senators needed to force a vote on lower-court judges from 60 to 51 in 2013. Senate Republicans followed suit in 2017 and eliminated the filibuster on Supreme Court nominations, meaning that nominees would only need to clear a 50-vote threshold to be confirmed.
Many sitting justices were confirmed with bipartisan support, although the days of overwhelming consensus have passed. That will probably be the case with this, Trump’s third nomination to the Supreme Court.
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