Republicans Prepare for Accelerated Supreme Court Confirmation

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September 26, 2020

Senate Republicans and the White House are laying the groundwork for an accelerated confirmation process for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, culminating with a late October confirmation vote.

Sources close to the process anticipate a final confirmation vote before the presidential election during the week of Oct. 26. A hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee would come the week of Oct. 12 at the latest, and conceivably as early as Monday, Oct. 5. Supreme Court nominees generally appear before the panel for three days. Introductory statements are delivered on the first day, followed by consecutive days of questions from senators.

"She is a woman of unparalleled achievement, towering intellect, sterling credentials and unyielding loyalty to the Constitution," President Donald Trump said of Barrett before an ecstatic crowd in the Rose Garden.

"This should be a straightforward and prompt confirmation," he added.

Nominees usually meet with as many lawmakers as possible before the confirmation vote. Those so-called courtesy meetings are expected to begin almost immediately after the nominee is named.

White House lawyers and Barrett will also have two logistical gauntlets to clear. The nominee must complete a lengthy questionnaire for the Judiciary Committee disclosing past writings, speeches, professional activities, and relevant legal experience. Justice Brett Kavanaugh's completed questionnaire ran over 100 pages. Lawmakers can also submit supplementary questions, called questions for the record or QFRs, for the nominee. Senate Democrats sent almost 1,300 QFRs to Kavanaugh, and may do the same to delay progress on Barrett's nomination.

A team of lawyers intimately familiar with the nominee will be on hand to complete both the questionnaire and the QFRs. Overwhelming the nominee with written questions may only buy a couple of days in a best-case scenario, but on a tight confirmation timeline even minor holdups could be decisive.

Rachel Bovard, policy director for the Conservative Partnership Institute and a Senate procedure maven, told the Washington Free Beacon that Democrats can blunt progress by forcing procedural votes or leveraging institutional rules. One such move might be to invoke an arcane rule requiring that committee work end no later than two hours after the Senate gavels into session, but Bovard said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could break that move on his own. Democrats might also make motions to adjourn, which must be voted on.

"The GOP can easily overcome them, it just takes 51 votes. But you have to have 51 people there to do it," Bovard said.

All told, a strong-arm approach from Republicans can overcome whatever dilatory tactics Democrats try, but the strategy is not without risks. Half a dozen Republican incumbents are in tight races for reelection. Every day spent in Washington clearing procedural logjams is a day spent off the campaign trail. While traditional stumping and glad-handing aren't possible due to the coronavirus pandemic, lawmakers may be loath to leave their home states wide open to Democratic challengers.

The consequences of a miffed Supreme Court confirmation could be worse, however.

"The stakes couldn't be higher for the Republican Party," Bovard told the Free Beacon. "This is what they were elected to do. Just this. And effectively this has been their entire agenda. Mitch McConnell's entire legacy hangs on confirming judges. So if you can't get this judge across the finish line, what's the point?"

"This is the most high-stakes, high-consequence vote that any of these senators will take," she added.