2020 Supreme Court confirmation: What you need to know

FILE – Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trumps nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, meets with Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)

The spread of COVID-19 cases within the White House and among members of the U.S. Senate has left little margin for error related to the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

Three Republican senators have been in self-isolation since announcing last week they had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump also tested positive last week.

There are a lot of factors at play involving the confirmation of a high court nominee under the best of circumstances. Confirming a nominee amid a pandemic ahead of a U.S. presidential election presents a unique set of circumstances.

Here’s what you need to know.

  • Q: Who are the senators with the coronavirus?
  • Three Republican senators have tested for COVID-19: Utah Sen. Mike Lee, North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis and Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson.

    Lee and Tillis are members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is scheduled to begin hearings for Amy Coney Barrett on Monday, Oct. 12.

    Lee and Tillis said they planned to self-isolate at home for 10 days from their date of their positive test.

    Tillis said this week he plans to be ready for the hearings and will likely take part virtually.

  • Q: Is it possible the confirmation hearings will be delayed?
  • Highly unlikely, unless more senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee test positive.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made it clear he wants the confirmation hearings to begin Oct. 12, although a return to Senate floor action has been delayed until Oct. 19.

    The chairman of the committee, Sen. Lindsay Graham, has said some lawmakers could take part in a hearing virtually, if necessary.

    Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democrats are critical of Republicans for moving forward with the hearings. But there’s little they can do to stop them.

  • Q: What if the Senate Judiciary Committee doesn't vote for confirmation?
  • It’s possible that could happen, but it wouldn’t derail Barrett’s confirmation.

    The committee is made up of 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats, and a majority of lawmakers have to be present for quorum.

    If Democrats boycott the vote and Republicans happened to have a couple of lawmakers still out, they might fall short of a quorum.

    As important as the committee vote is, it’s not required that the panel vote to confirm the nominee before a vote by the full Senate — though that would be highly unusual.

    McConnell could still bring Barrett’s nomination to the floor.

  • Q: Will the Senate vote happen before Election Day?
  • Barring any major developments or additional lawmakers getting the virus, Republicans are hoping the Senate vote will take place the week of Oct. 26. That would put it ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

    Democrats argue that the vote should be postponed until Americans vote to determine who will be president for the next four years.

    Republicans argue the president has the Senate GOP majority and there should be nothing to stop Trump from getting his nominee confirmed.

    GOP lawmakers made the opposite argument in February 2016, following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, saying the Senate vote on his replacement should come after the election.

    McConnell blocked then-President Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland from getting confirmation hearings and a Senate vote.

  • Q: How close is the Senate vote expected to be?
  • It will be tight, but Republicans appear to have just enough votes to get Barrett confirmed.

    Republicans have a 53-47 advantage in the Senate. Two GOP lawmakers — Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski — have said they will not vote for a nominee before Election Day.

    That still leaves Republicans with a two-vote margin. Justice Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed on a 50-48 vote, following a contentious fight over his nomination.

    If Barrett is confirmed, the makeup of the Supreme Court will become much more conservative and could remain so for decades.

    The high court would move to a 6-3 conservative majority, instead of the previous 5-4, before the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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Mitchell Miller

Mitchell Miller has worked at WTOP since 1996, as a producer, editor, reporter and Senior News Director. After working "behind the scenes," coordinating coverage and reporter coverage for years, Mitchell moved back to his first love -- reporting. He is now WTOP's Capitol Hill reporter.

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