WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump officially named Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his Supreme Court nominee in a White House event Saturday afternoon, setting up a contentious nomination fight in the final few weeks before the presidential election.
"Today it is my honor to nominate one of our nation's most brilliant and gifted legal minds to the Supreme Court. She is a woman of unparalleled achievement, towering intellect, sterling credentials and unyielding loyalty to the Constitution," Trump said.
Barrett, accompanied by her husband and seven children, joined Trump in the Rose Garden for the event.
"Should I be confirmed, I will be mindful of who came before me. The flag of the United States is still flying at half-staff in memory of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to mark the end of a great American life," said Barrett, praising the late justice, who died eight days ago at 87.
"Justice Ginsburg began her career at a time when women were not welcome in the legal profession. But she not only broke glass ceilings, she smashed them," Barrett said.
Both Barrett and Trump alluded to the ugly confirmation fight likely to take place on Capitol Hill in the coming weeks.
"I have no illusions that the road ahead of me will be easy, either for the short term or the long haul," Barrett said.
Trump urged Senate Democrats to give Barrett a "respectful and dignified hearing," joking that "I'm sure it will be extremely non-controversial."
Barrett spoke of her relationship with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a leading voice of conservative jurisprudence for whom she clerked in the 1990s, saying that he had an "incalculable influence on my life" and thanking his family for appearing at the ceremony.
"[Scalia's] judicial philosophy is mine, too: a judge must apply the law as written. Judges are not policymakers and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they might hold," Barrett said.
The audience in the Rose Garden also included evangelist Franklin Graham, Attorney General Bill Barr, and Republican Senators Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Josh Hawley of Missouri.
If confirmed, Barrett, 48, would be the fifth woman to serve on the Supreme Court and the youngest member of the current court. A devout Catholic, Barrett, who has the backing of evangelicals, would be the court's sixth Catholic justice and would also be Trump's third appointee, joining Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
Her presence would cement a 6-3 conservative majority as she replaces Ginsburg, one of the court's most outspoken liberals.
Barrett was appointed by Trump to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Indiana in 2017 and confirmed in the Senate by a vote of 55-43, including three Democrats. Before that, Barrett worked briefly in private practice and taught for 15 years at the Notre Dame Law School, where she earned her law degree.
Republican leaders in the Senate have said they have the votes to confirm Barrett's nomination this year, possibly before Election Day. That would give Barrett less than 40 days to undergo an updated FBI background check and for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing and a committee vote — all necessary but hurried steps in the confirmation process.
Senate hearings — which typically begin months after someone is nominated — could start as soon as Oct. 12, according to a Republican aide familiar with the matter, an aggressive timeline that would leave only days between Barrett's nomination and the start of the confirmation process.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on Saturday night echoed a similar timeline on Fox News. “Sixteen days from now we will start the hearings Oct. 12.," said Graham, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman.
He expected the hearing would last three or four days and would have the nomination sent to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who sets the floor schedule for votes, by Oct. 26.
An expedited hearing schedule would help ensure that the Supreme Court would be at the forefront of the remaining presidential campaign as Trump continues to trail Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the polls and is grasping for an opportunity to change the dynamics of the race in his favor.
"I look forward to meeting with the nominee next week and will carefully study her record and credentials. As I have stated, this nomination will receive a vote on the Senate floor in the weeks ahead," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement following Trump's nomination announcement.
Still, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that Democrats were united in their opposition to Barrett.
"Justice Ginsburg must be turning over in her grave up in heaven, to see that the person they chose seems to be intent on undoing all the things that Ginsburg did," Schumer told reporters on Saturday.
The confirmation timeline is also likely to make abortion rights and health care key topics in the final days of the presidential race. Democrats have warned that Barrett would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade and could tip the court against the Affordable Care Act in a case challenging the law that is scheduled to begin oral arguments the week after the November election.
Biden warned of Barrett's stance on the ACA in a statement Saturday, writing that she "has a written track record of disagreeing with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision upholding the Affordable Care Act."
"The Senate should not act on this vacancy until after the American people select their next president and the next Congress," Biden added.
While some Republicans had suggested it was politically advantageous for Trump to hold off on confirming a new justice before Election Day in the hopes that a vacant seat would turn out the base, the president has made it clear he prefers Barrett be confirmed before Nov. 3, in case disputes over the election need to be resolved by the Supreme Court.
"I think this will end up in the Supreme Court," Trump said earlier in the week, speaking of the election results. "And I think it’s very important that we have nine justices."
Democrats have fiercely criticized Republicans for taking a hypocritical approach to filling Ginsburg's seat. After the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February of 2016, McConnell refused to consider President Barack Obama's nominee, arguing that it was too close to the election and voters should have a say.
At a campaign rally in Pennsylvania later Saturday night, Trump celebrated his newly named nominee, basking in the opportunity to deflect attention away from the coronavirus pandemic and a floundering economy that have been red marks on his presidency.
"I just came from the Rose Garden of the White House," Trump said, pausing for effect while the crowd erupted in chants of "Fill That Seat!"
"This is our third nomination. We have Justice Gorsuch, Justice Kavanaugh — and now we have Amy."