WASHINGTON — Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee were prepared on Thursday to advance the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, planning to skirt the panel’s rules and vote to recommend her confirmation as Democrats boycott the session.
Though the panel was not scheduled to convene until 9 a.m., all 12 Republicans had already signaled that Judge Barrett had their enthusiastic backing. Their action would set up a vote by the full Senate on Monday to confirm Judge Barrett, delivering President Trump and Republicans a coveted achievement just eight days before the election.
Democrats, livid over the extraordinarily speedy process, planned to spurn the committee vote altogether. By doing so, they effectively dared Republicans to break their own rules to muscle the nomination through. Without the votes to block the judge in either the committee or the full Senate, though, their action was purely symbolic.
Democrats have sharply opposed Judge Barrett, a conservative in the mold of former Justice Antonin Scalia, on policy grounds. But their goal on Thursday was to tarnish the legitimacy of her confirmation, arguing that Republicans had no right to fill the seat vacated just over a month ago by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, when millions of Americans were already voting.
Democrats were particularly angry that Republicans had reversed themselves since 2016, when they refused to consider President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee nine months before the election that year.
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“Republicans have moved at breakneck speed to jam through this nominee, ignoring her troubling record and unprecedented evasions, and breaking longstanding committee rules to set tomorrow’s vote,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said in a statement on Wednesday. “We will not grant this process any further legitimacy by participating in a committee markup of this nomination just 12 days before the culmination of an election that is already underway.”
Democrats planned to hold a news conference on the steps of the Capitol galvanizing opposition to the process. Left in their places in the hearing room will be large posters of Americans whose health care coverage they argue could evaporate if Judge Barrett were to side with a conservative majority on the court to strike down the Affordable Care Act when it hears a Republican challenge to the law next month.
Republicans intended to proceed anyway, even if it meant tossing out Judiciary Committee rules that required members of the minority party to be present to conduct official business. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and the chairman of the committee, argued this week that broader Senate rules only require a simple majority of all committee members be present.
“Judge Barrett deserves a vote, and she will receive a vote,” Mr. Graham said late Wednesday. “Judge Barrett deserves to be reported out of committee, and she will be reported out of committee. Judge Barrett deserves to be on the Supreme Court, and she will be confirmed.”
New public polling suggests American voters may increasingly be on the side of Republicans, with opposition to Judge Barrett’s confirmation before the election waning, even among Democrats.
If anything, Democrats’ absence after a week of heated sparring during Judge Barrett’s confirmation hearings promised to make the proceeding on Thursday quieter and faster than it otherwise would have been. Republicans were prepared to dismiss the Democrats’ boycott as a childish stunt.
Oct. 22, 2020, 8:37 a.m. ET
“The political system is broken — I get that, plenty of blame to go around — but she is one of the best people anybody could ever nominate to the court,” Mr. Graham said.
Republicans regard the chance to install Mr. Trump’s third Supreme Court justice, cementing a 6-to-3 conservative majority on the court, as perhaps the most significant accomplishment of his presidency. And they hope the elevation of Judge Barrett will galvanize conservative voters before the election.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, has indicated that after the committee’s action, the full Senate would proceed on Friday to bring up Judge Barrett’s nomination, with a final vote on Monday.
That vote, too, is expected to fall mostly on party lines. At least one Republican, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, has said she will join Democrats in opposition. She could be joined by Senator Lisa Murkowksi, Republican of Alaska and a proponent of abortion rights, who was opposed to filling the seat so close to the election.
But one by one, the small cadre of moderate Republicans who occasionally break with their party have announced their intention to vote for Judge Barrett. They have argued that comparisons to 2016 are unfair, because then, unlike now, the White House and Senate were controlled by opposing parties.
“She is well qualified and has said she will decide cases based upon the law, not her personal views,” Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, said on Wednesday. “Judge Barrett will be an excellent associate justice of the Supreme Court, and I will vote to confirm her nomination.”
The boycott on Thursday was arguably their most drastic step yet, but Democrats have repeatedly turned to dilatory tactics to try to frame the fight, fluster Republicans and show liberals they are doing all they can to push back on Judge Barrett’s nomination. Mr. Schumer tried repeatedly this week to shut down the Senate chamber altogether until after the election, forcing Republicans to undergo lengthy roll call votes to block him. Earlier, he had exploited parliamentary tactics to block committees from conducting regular meetings.
Democrats had briefly discussed boycotting Judge Barrett’s confirmation hearings last week, but they decided against giving up their only chance to publicly and directly question the nominee about her legal philosophy and record. But now, with confirmation all but preordained, they reasoned a boycott would show the party’s progressive base they had fought until the end.