BY STEVE HOLLAND AND LAWRENCE HURLEY
President Donald Trump plans on Saturday to name conservative federal appeals court judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, two sources said on Friday.
His decision, which comes a week after the liberal icon’s death at age 87, sets the stage for what promises to be a bitter confirmation fight in the U.S. Senate, which is controlled by Trump’s fellow Republicans. Trump has asked Senate Republicans to confirm his nominee ahead of the Nov. 3 U.S. election, when he seeks a second term in office and Democrats aim to seize control of the chamber.
Barrett, 48, was appointed by Trump to the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017 and is known for her conservative religious views. Supreme Court justices are given lifetime appointments.
If confirmed by the Senate, she would become the fifth woman to serve on the high court while expanding its conservative majority to a rock-solid 6-3.
Trump plans a formal introduction at the White House on Saturday. Two sources confirmed on Friday that Trump plans to nominate Barrett, but warned that Trump could change his mind. Trump himself told reporters on Friday that he had made his decision, but declined to say who his pick was.
Barrett has been viewed as a frontrunner throughout, along with fellow federal appeals court judge Barbara Lagoa. Barrett previously served as a clerk to conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016.
Trump said he did not meet with Lagoa during a campaign trip to Florida.
As an appellate judge, Barrett has staked out conservative legal positions on key hot-button issues in three years on the bench, showing support for expansive gun rights and a hardline Trump immigration policy while bolstering the rights of college students accused of campus sexual assaults.
Abortion rights groups have expressed concern that on the Supreme Court Barrett could help overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
A clear path
Trump’s nominee has what appears to be a clear path to Senate confirmation, with Republicans holding a 53-47 majority in the chamber and only two senators in his party indicating opposition to moving forward with the process.
Democrats have objected to the Senate acting on Trump’s nominee in light of the decision by Republicans in the chamber in 2016 to refuse to consider Democratic President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia after he died during a presidential election year.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll found that a majority of Americans think the winner of the November election should get to nominate Ginsburg’s successor.
Ginsburg, a champion of gender equality and various liberal causes, made history again on Friday as the first woman and first Jewish person to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden attended the ceremony a day after Trump was greeted with jeers and boos by a nearby crowd as he visited Ginsburg’s flag-draped coffin outside the Supreme Court building.
Trump this week said he believed the Supreme Court would be called upon to rule on the election outcome, something that has happened only once in American history, in 2000.
“I think it’s very important that we have nine justices,” Trump said on Wednesday.
Trump has repeatedly and without evidence said that voting by mail, a longstanding feature of American politics, could lead to a surge in election fraud.
Abortion, gun and voting rights
Barrett would be his third Supreme Court appointment. Like Trump’s two other conservative appointees, Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, Barrett potentially could serve for decades, placing a conservative stamp on Supreme Court precedent.
The court’s decisions exert vast influence on American life, and a solidly conservative court could limit abortion rights, expand religious liberty, strike down gun control laws and uphold new restrictions on voting rights.
On Nov. 10, the court is scheduled to hear arguments in a major case in which Trump and fellow Republicans are seeking to invalidate the 2010 Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. If confirmed by then, the nominee could cast a decisive vote.
The nomination could help Trump cement a key part of his presidential legacy – making the federal judiciary move conservative – while also energizing his core supporters ahead of the election.
The Senate under the U.S. Constitution is given the power to confirm or reject a president’s judicial nominees. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has given a high priority to winning confirmation of Trump’s conservative judicial selections.