Amy Coney Barrett will face public hearings this week as Donald Trump’s supreme court SCOTUS nominee. Here’s what we might expect
For an American judge, there is no job more prestigious or influential than the Supreme Court Justice of the United States.
It’s a lifetime appointment, which grants nine people the power to shape American life for a generation.
And the death of liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September means US President Donald Trump had a chance to give a Republican pick this honour.
Amy Coney Barrett has been on a conservative wish list for Supreme Court nominees for years, but so far her path to secure a place on the court has been pretty rocky.
As Republicans look to speed up her nomination, she’s expected to face days of hearings where she’ll be grilled by top Democrats and Republicans on everything from abortion to Obamacare.
This is what we can expect from the process.
How did we get here?
The seat came up after the death of Justice Ginsburg. But Democrats are aghast that Republicans are pushing through a nominee weeks before the election.
They aren’t happy because when a vacancy came up 269 days before the 2016 vote, Republicans refused to confirm Barack Obama’s pick, insisting the American voters should decide.
Along with the controversy around the process, Judge Barrett will face the committee with the knowledge the party to announce her nomination in the White House Rose Garden may have been a coronavirus super spreader event.
Eleven people including President Donald Trump, his wife Melania, and Judge Barrett’s former boss Reverend John Jenkins all tested positive days after the press conference.
Will the White House cluster affect these hearings?
There had been speculation that the coronavirus cluster growing in the White House and Republican party might delay efforts to confirm Judge Barrett before Election Day on November 3.
But the Senate Judiciary Committee insisted its hearings would continue even if it meant that some members had to participate virtually, rather than in person.
Two sitting members, including Mike Lee who was seen hugging people at the Rose Garden event, tested positive for COVID-19 and are expected to stay in quarantine.
The Committee must interrogate and then vote on the President’s Supreme Court nominee before the entire Senate either confirms or rejects her.
The Republicans hold a majority in both the committee and in the Senate, so as long as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell keeps everyone in line, she should be confirmed.
The hearings will run for three days from 12:00am, October 13 until October 16 AEDT.
What’s Amy Coney Barrett in for?
Each member of the judiciary committee will get 30 minutes to question Judge Barrett about her judicial philosophy and beliefs.
Judge Barrett used to clerk for the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, and says she shares his view that the US Constitution should be applied exactly as written.
Justice Scalia believed there was no constitutional right to abortion, equal pay for women, or same-sex marriage.
As a Roman Catholic, Judge Barrett can expect to be grilled by Democrats about how she would rule if the constitutional right to abortion were challenged.
It was also revealed last week that Judge Barrett and her husband belong to a group called People of Praise, which opposes abortion and believes wives should submit to their husband.
Judge Barrett reportedly served as a ‘handmaid’ to the group, which means she was a high-ranking female member. It’s safe to say this might come up in the hearings.
But don’t expect Judge Barrett to be explicit about her beliefs. Nominees must find a way to avoid taking positions on issues that might come before the court.
“If a nominee directly expressed a preference to overturn Roe v Wade, the ruling that legalised abortion across the nation, that justice might have to be recused from a future case,” the New York Times explains.
The toughest questions could come from Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, who is running as the Democratic vice-presidential candidate.
Senator Feinstein caused a firestorm in 2017 during Judge Barrett’s confirmation to a lower court, when she declared: “The dogma lives loudly within you”.
The White House is also reportedly getting her ready to answer questions from Democrats about the outbreak of coronavirus following the Rose Garden party.
These hearings can get pretty contentious
Just look at what happened during Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing.
Two years ago, when the judge was under scrutiny as the pick for the Supreme Court, he was confronted with sexual assault allegations by former schoolmate Christine Blasey Ford.
Justice Kavanaugh strongly denied the accusations of sexual assault. But Republicans agreed to allow Dr Blasey Ford to testify.
The testimony ended up stretching out the proceedings, but ultimately Kavanaugh was confirmed in a 50-48 vote.
Nominees for the Supreme Court usually go through a pretty extensive vetting process before they face public hearings, so bombshell revelations like the Kavanaugh hearing are rare.
But given how quickly Republicans are moving with the hearings, it’s hard to rule out something unexpected coming up.
Some Republicans may vote against Trump’s pick
Some Republicans have flagged they may oppose a nominee put forward before the election because of their party’s decision to block Barack Obama’s pick in 2016.
But for the moment at least, Senator Mitch McConnell appears to have the votes.
Even if he lost one or two votes, which seems likely after Maine Senator Susan Collins and Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski criticised the decision to do this before the election, he could still confirm a justice.
Republicans control the Senate by a 53-47 margin so it’s only if he loses more than three votes, where he could be in trouble.
Can they really get this done by Election Day?
Since 1975, the average time from nomination to final Senate vote is 69.6 days, according to the Congressional Research Service.
One of the exceptions to this timeline was Mr Kavanaugh’s hearing, which took longer.
Others have also taken less time. But with the election less than a month away, the Republicans can’t afford any delays.
Even if they did end up missing their election deadline, Republicans could still vote on Mr Trump’s nominee.
The period after the election and before the next Congress takes office in January is typically referred to as the lame duck session but Republicans are still expected to be in charge of the Senate during that period.
And because Republicans control the Senate and its Judiciary Committee, Democrats are largely helpless in delaying the vote, Stephen Wermiel, a constitutional law professor at American University in Washington, DC, told the New York Times.
“There’s not really much the Democrats can do once it goes to the floor. There is no filibuster. There is no real way for them to stop the nomination.”