U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday nominated Amy Coney Barrett to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, giving him an opportunity to make the court more conservative, 37 days before the November 3 presidential election.
"Today it is my honor to nominate one of our nation's most brilliant and gifted legal minds to the Supreme Court ... Judge Amy Coney Barrett," Trump said to a gathering in the White House Rose Garden.
"This should be a straightforward and prompt confirmation," he said, urging lawmakers and media to refrain from personal and partisan attacks on Barrett.
The president also noted that should Barrett be confirmed, she would be the first mother of school-age children to serve on the nation's highest court.
In brief remarks, Barrett praised Ginsburg's life of service, to women and the court.
Trump had promised to nominate a woman to succeed Ginsburg, who died last week at age 87. Barrett, a conservative appeals court judge, had been a front-runner for the seat along with another appeals court judge, Barbara Lagoa, both of whom were appointed by Trump earlier in his administration to the federal bench.
The president's decision to make an appointment ahead of his heated reelection contest with former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden instantly sparked a fierce political battle in Washington, with Senate Republican leaders arguing the confirmation process should proceed as quickly as possible and Democrats contending the nomination should be delayed until the winner of November's presidential election is known.
At stake is the political leaning of the Supreme Court, to which justices are appointed for life. The court had a 5-4 conservative majority before Ginsburg's death. If a conservative justice is confirmed to replace Ginsburg, the conservative majority could shift to 6-3.
Whoever fills Ginsburg's vacant seat will play a role in making key Supreme Court decisions in the coming years on a range of important issues, likely including abortion rights, health care, gun laws, religious liberty, immigration and freedom of speech.
Election Day looming
Senate Republican leaders are planning to move quickly to confirm Trump's court nominee. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised to confirm the choice by Election Day on November 3.
Trump has said that it is important to have a full court on Election Day in case there are legal challenges regarding the vote.
"I think this will end up in the Supreme Court," Trump said Wednesday of the general election, adding, "and I think it's very important that we have nine justices."
A flurry of election litigation has already begun in states across the country amid an expectation of large increases in mail-in ballots and early voting brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
Support for Barrett
Barrett has drawn wide support from the conservative legal establishment in the United States.
She is a 48-year-old devout Catholic who is very popular among conservative evangelical Christians, arguably Trump's most loyal supporters.
Barrett taught law at the University of Notre Dame, one of the most prominent U.S. Catholic universities, for 15 years before Trump named her in 2017 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, which covers the states of Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.
Religious conservatives hope Barrett would vote to overturn the landmark 1973 decision legalizing abortion rights in the United States. While Barrett has in the past expressed criticism of the ruling, she also said during her 2017 confirmation hearing to the appeals court that she would view previous Supreme Court rulings as binding precedent.
Democrats opposed her confirmation in 2017, voicing concerns about the role she places on religion in her life. They cited comments Barrett made at Notre Dame, saying a "legal career is but a means to an end ... and that end is building the Kingdom of God."
Vice President Mike Pence told ABC News this week that Barrett faced "intolerance" about her faith in her last confirmation hearing.
Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, the legislative body that is responsible for confirming judicial appointments.
Two Republicans have said they oppose filling Ginsburg's Supreme Court seat before November: Lisa Murkowski from Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine. However, two more Republican senators would have to join them to give Democrats the ability to block a potential nominee, and it appears the remaining Republicans are united in their bid to see a confirmation hearing take place.
Democratic leaders in the Senate charge Republicans with hypocrisy because they refused to allow consideration of former President Barack Obama's final Supreme Court nominee in 2016. At that time, Republicans argued that high court vacancies should be left unfilled during an election year so the American people can weigh in on the choice.
Now, Democrats are arguing Republicans should apply that same logic and hold off on filling the Supreme Court seat until after the presidential election.
Republicans have defended their actions, arguing that the situation was different in 2016 because at that time there was divided government - one party held the presidency, and the other party held the Senate - whereas in 2020 Republicans control both bodies.
Trump's Supreme Court nominee would be his third, following Senate approval of two other conservative justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, both of which came after contentious confirmation hearings.