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Suzanne Lynch’s US Election Diary: Trump’s judicial legacy confirmed as Barrett reaches supreme court

US president has now nominated three conservative-leaning justices to the nine-member court

Amy Coney Barrett has been sworn in to the US supreme court. The confirmation of Barrett, US president Donald Trump's third supreme court nominee, took place just eight days before the US election. Video: Reuters

At any other time, the vote to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the supreme court would dominate US media coverage for weeks. But coming as it does in the final week of an election campaign, her confirmation to the court last night threatens to be overshadowed by the torrent of election news.

It shouldn't be. Appointing a justice to the supreme court is one of the most important powers invested in a US president. Donald Trump has been lucky enough to have nominated three justices on the nine-member court.

Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett are all conservative-leaning justices. All are aged under 55 – which means they may well serve up another 30 years on the court. Trump may lose in next week's election, but his legacy will live on in the judicial system for a generation.

Barrett, as expected, was confirmed by a 52-48 vote in the senate last night after 30 hours of debate.


While the outcome was never really in doubt, the result was a reminder of the deep partisanship that has now taken root in Washington. Not a single Democrat voted to confirm Ms Barrett. Contrast that with Ruth Bader Ginsburg's nomination in 1993 for example. She was confirmed by 96-3, with dozens of Republicans – including a younger Mitch McConnell – voting with Democrats to confirm her.

What was more extraordinary, however, was the decision by the White House to hold a swearing-in ceremony last night – despite the fact a nomination ceremony for Barrett on September 29th was widely considered to have been a "super-spreader" event that led to the infection of several people, including possibly the president and first lady.

With a week to the election, the appointment of Barrett may serve to remind conservative Americans of the power of their vote and the reason many of them voted for Donald Trump in the first place despite their misgivings. Whether it will deliver a boost to the president a week from the election remains to be seen, particularly given that many Americans have already voted.

Coincidentally, a decision yesterday by the supreme court – which has been sitting with just eight justices in place since Ms Ginsburg’s death last month – was a reminder of the power the court can wield in election matters.

The court rejected a Democratic request to extend the deadline for counting mail-in ballots in Wisconsin, a key battleground state. The case marked a significant victory for Republicans in the state who wanted to limit the time voters had to return ballots. Following the ruling, all votes must be received by election day to be counted, unlike in states like Pennsylvania where they will be accepted up to several days afterwards as long as they are postmarked on November 3rd.

Meanwhile, the number of early voters continued to break records with a week left until election day. More than 62 million Americans have already cast their vote in the election.

Quote of the day

"Today, Monday October 26th, 2020, will go down as one of the darkest days in the 231-year history of the United States senate. Let the record show that tonight the Republican senate majority decided to thwart the will of the people and confirm a lifetime appointment to the supreme court in the middle of a presidential election after more than 60 million Americans have voted" – senate minority leader Chuck Schumer on the floor as the senate voted to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the supreme court.

On the campaign trail

After holding three rallies in Pennsylvania yesterday, Trump heads to the mid-western state of Michigan today, with a campaign event scheduled in the capital, Lansing. He will then fly to neighbouring Wisconsin and make a final stop in Omaha, Nebraska.

Vice-president Mike Pence will campaign in North Carolina and South Carolina, while the Trump family is also fanning out across the country, with Donald jnr, Eric, Ivanka and Tiffany hosting events in key swing-states.

Democratic candidate Joe Biden is heading to Georgia, signalling a last-minute effort by Democrats to win the southern state that has not voted for a Democratic president since 1992. Former president Barack Obama will hold a rally in Orlando, Florida, while vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris will campaign in Nevada.

Recommended reads

Joe Biden is not only ahead in the polls, but also leading in terms of fundraising. My feature in today's Irish Times on how money still oils US politics.

The first excerpt from Barack Obama's memoir was published yesterday in the New Yorker. It details his efforts to push through Obamacare, and opens with some moving reflections on the late Ted Kennedy.

The New York Times has a fascinating exposé into what it claims is the nepotism and patronage plaguing New York's electoral system, as the city and state prepare for a big increase in absentee ballots. New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez criticised what she described as "unacceptable" queues at New York polling stations this weekend as early voting began. "If this was happening in a swing state there would be national coverage," she said.

"All the president's debts:" The Financial Times combs through Donald Trump's finances, analysing who is owed money by the president.

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