WASHINGTON — Newly confirmed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett will immediately be embroiled in some of the nation's biggest legal battles, including cases that could determine whether the president who nominated her gets four more years in the White House.
The 48-year-old Barrett, who takes her seat just a week before Election Day, joins a court already deliberating pending voting disputes from North Carolina and Pennsylvania. She could play a pivotal role in any post-election legal fights, and will take part when the court hears a challenge to the Affordable Care Act a week after the election.
The Republican-controlled Senate confirmed Barrett on an almost party-line 52-48 vote Monday night. Barely an hour later, she appeared alongside a beaming President Donald Trump at the White House, where arch-conservative Justice Clarence Thomas administered one of the two required oaths of office. Barrett took the second oath at the court Tuesday morning from Chief Justice John Roberts, letting her start work as a justice.
"The oath that I have solemnly taken tonight means at its core that I will do my job without any fear or favor and that I will do so independently of both the political branches and of my own preferences," Barrett said at the White House.
Never before has a justice joined the Supreme Court so close to an election — or with a president openly saying he might need the new member's vote to win another term. Barrett was studiously noncommittal when Democrats asked at her confirmation hearing whether she would disqualify herself from cases over the election. Federal law gives justices broad latitude to decide when to recuse.
For months, Trump has claimed, despite scant evidence, that mail-in voting would lead to widespread election fraud, and has been laying the groundwork for a legal fight.
Barrett "will make an outstanding justice on the highest court in our land," Trump said Monday. "This is a momentous day for America, for the United States Constitution, and for the fair and impartial rule of law."
The Supreme Court is already addressing pre-election skirmishes over the rules for casting and counting ballots in the contest between Trump and Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee. Just minutes before the Senate confirmed her, the court issued a 5-3 decision rejecting a Democratic attempt to revive an extension for the receipt of mail ballots in Wisconsin.
Elevating Barrett helps fulfill a long-standing Republican goal of transforming the federal bench into a conservative legal bulwark. With the clearest anti-abortion record of any high court nominee in decades, her appointment is a major victory for evangelical Christian groups that are a crucial voting bloc for Trump as he heads into Election Day trailing Biden.