Amy Coney Barrett is set to be confirmed by the US Senate on Monday evening, giving President Donald Trump his third Supreme Court justice just a week before election day.
The conservative jurist will give the court a 6-3 majority of Republican-appointed justices just in time to rule on election-related cases that could be pivotal to the outcome of the race.
Ms Barrett is likely to be installed by a largely party-line vote later on Monday in the Senate, which Republicans control with a slim 53-47 majority.
“We expect for a swearing in to happen later this evening if all goes well,” Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, told reporters on Monday morning.
Mr Trump has made clear his desire for Ms Barrett to be in place on the Supreme Court to rule on any disputes that arise during the election. The potential impact of her vote was evident last week when the court split 4-4 in a case regarding ballot deadlines in Pennsylvania, a critical swing state.
In that case, Chief Justice John Roberts broke with the conservative wing of the court to join the three liberals and deliver the deadlock. As a result, a three-day extension to Pennsylvania’s deadlines for mail-in ballots remained in place.
Ms Barrett’s views on election law are unclear, and her record as a federal appeals court judge does not include any election-related decisions. At her confirmation hearings this month, Ms Barrett said she had not accepted the nomination to do Mr Trump’s bidding.
However, it is widely believed that she will act as a reliable conservative vote on the Supreme Court, and her confirmation is set to shift the court’s dynamics by sharply curtailing Mr Roberts’s ability to determine the outcome of close cases by joining with the liberal wing.
Some Democrats have argued that the party should add new Supreme Court seats in response to Ms Barrett’s confirmation. Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, has said he is “not a fan” of court packing but said last week he would set up a bipartisan panel to examine reforming the Supreme Court.
Democrats, who are in the minority in the Senate, have lacked any real procedural tools to block Ms Barrett’s ascension to the court. Indeed, opinion polling has indicated that public support for her confirmation has grown, rather than shrunk, since Mr Trump nominated her.
Only one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, is expected to vote against Ms Barrett. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, had previously said she opposed confirming a justice so close to an election but on Saturday said she would vote for Ms Barrett.
Ms Barrett’s relatively smooth confirmation process has come despite the unprecedented nature of her installing so close to the presidential election, and an apparent outbreak of coronavirus tied to the White House event where her nomination was announced.
In 2016, Republicans had blocked Barack Obama from filling a vacant Supreme Court seat because it was an election year, arguing that voters should have a say.
Ms Barrett will fill the vacant seat left by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, replacing a stalwart liberal with a conservative cheered by anti-abortion activists as the justice who might finally herald the end of Roe v Wade, the 1973 ruling that recognised a constitutional right to abortion.
In addition to abortion rights, Ms Barrett’s confirmation is expected to swing the Supreme Court further to the right on issues such as gun control and the government’s regulatory powers.
One of the most high-profile cases she will hear in the near term is a challenge to the Affordable Care Act, Mr Obama’s signature healthcare law. Arguments in that case are scheduled for November 10.
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