(CBS) – President Trump announced Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee for the Supreme Court seat left vacant by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death last week, leaving the Republican-controlled Senate little time if they opt to confirm the nominee ahead of Election Day.
CBS News reported on Friday evening that Trump was expected to nominate Barrett, who was considered a finalist for the Supreme Court vacancy left by the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018. Justice Brett Kavanaugh was tapped by the president instead.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the Senate will vote on Trump’s nominee, four years after he blocked President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court because the vacancy occurred in an election year. There were only eight justices on the court for over a year after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, until Justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed in 2017.
The Senate Judiciary Committee must hold confirmation hearings with Barrett ahead of the confirmation vote by the full Senate. Although senators typically go home to campaign for reelection in October, two sources familiar with the schedule told CBS News that the committee will hold hearings that month. The tentative plan is to hear opening statements on October 12, have senators question the nominee on October 13 and 14, and hear from outside witnesses on October 15.
If confirmed, Barrett will be the third justice nominated by Trump appointed to the Supreme Court. It would also expand the conservative majority on the court, widening it to 6 to 3.
The confirmation of another conservative justice could potentially benefit the president in his reelection efforts. The results of the election may not be clear on the night of November 3, raising concerns that the country could see another situation where the election is essentially determined by the Supreme Court. The coronavirus pandemic is expected to lead to a significant uptick in mail-in voting, and there are currently several election-related cases pending in state and federal courts.
Trump has said he wants the seat filled ahead of the election in case the court needs to rule on an election-related case.
“I think this will end up in the Supreme Court, and I think it’s very important that we have nine justices,” Trump told reporters last week. “I think we should go very quickly.”
The court is also set to hear critical cases on the Affordable Care Act and on grand jury material from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation later this fall.
Democrats have rankled at what they see as hypocrisy from Republicans, although McConnell argues that the situation is different because the Republican Party now controls both the Senate and the White House. Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski have both said they oppose holding a confirmation vote ahead of the election. However, even if Collins and Murkowski both voted against confirming the nominee, she would still be confirmed by a slim 51-vote majority, as all other Republicans have expressed support for filling the other seats.
Fury over the turnaround from Republicans on confirming a justice in an election year has led some Democrats to ponder options that recently were considered fringe ideas, most notably adding seats to the Supreme Court. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told members of his conference that “nothing is off the table” if Democrats retake the Senate, indicating that he is willing to consider expanding the court.