Though Amy Coney Barrett appears to have the support in the Senate to be confirmed to the Supreme Court, her historic confirmation hearings this week offer Democrat and Republican senators the chance to question the appeals court judge in front of a national audience weeks before a contentious election.
The hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee – tasked with vetting Barrett’s background and stance on issues that could come before the high court – could be key for a number of senators before November, including vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, who sits on the panel.
The coronavirus will play a role, altering how the hearings operate and threatening to derail Republicans’ tight deadline to confirm Barrett before Election Day, which is three weeks away.
Three Republican senators contracted the virus since President Donald Trump tested positive – including two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which could affect a vote on the panel and in the full Senate. Republicans appear to have locked in a majority to push through her nomination; only two have voiced opposition to moving forward before the election. But if senators remain ill or more contract the disease, making them unable to travel to Washington and vote on the Senate floor, her confirmation could be postponed.
Democrats have criticised the moves by Republicans to force the confirmation ahead of the 3 November presidential election and amid coronavirus concerns.
Judge Barrett’s approval would cement a conservative majority on the top court.
Conservative-leaning justices would then hold a 6-3 majority, shifting its ideological balance for potentially decades to come.
The court’s nine justices serve lifetime appointments, and their rulings can shape public policy on everything from gun and voting rights to abortion and campaign finance.
Democrats fear Judge Barrett’s successful nomination would favour Republicans in politically sensitive cases that reach the Supreme Court.
What will Judge Barrett say in her opening remarks?
In what is effectively an interview for the job, the confirmation hearing will give Judge Barrett a chance to explain her legal philosophy and qualifications for the lifetime post.
In prepared remarks released ahead of Monday’s meeting, Judge Barrett thanks President Trump for “entrusting me with this profound responsibility”, which she calls the “honour of a lifetime”.
In the speech, Judge Barrett will speak of the importance of her family and how her parents prepared her for a “life of service, principle, faith, and love”