President Donald Trump announced Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court during an event at the White House on September 25, 2020. Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, two key Republicans and several other attendees have since tested positive for COVID-19. Photo: Amy Rossetti / White House
Supreme Court opens new session amid COVID-19 and controversy
Tuesday, October 6, 2020
By Acee Agoyo
Amid growing uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Supreme Court opened its new term on Monday, as Republicans remain intent on confirming a conservative judge with virtually no experience in Indian law to the nation’s highest judicial body.
Even though two GOP members of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, the panel’s Republican leader still plans to hold a confirmation hearing for Judge Amy Coney Barrett next Monday as planned. The rush to move forward drew a sharp condemnation from Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), the vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, who said tribal concerns aren’t being taken into account.
“Instead of pushing a partisan nomination process through the Senate during a critical moment in our country’s history, Senate Republicans should respect the federal government’s duty—and trust obligation—to engage in meaningful tribal consultation on the impact this vital nominee will have on Indian Country’s future,” said Udall, who is retiring at the end of the current legislative session. “They must stop putting partisan politics ahead of our core democratic principles and let the American people decide who nominates the next Supreme Court justice.”
But with Democrats outnumbered in the U.S. Senate, there appears to be little they can do to stop Barrett from advancing. The two Judiciary members who tested positive — Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) — are cutting their coronavirus quarantines short in order to be in Washington for an anticipated committee vote on the nomination.
Without Lee and Tillis present, Republicans might not be able to move forward with Barrett. The GOP holds 12 seats on the committee, compared to 10 for the Democrats, so every vote counts.
Republicans should end their attempt to force through a #SCOTUS nominee with dangerous implications for all Native communities. The GOP quest to destroy the Affordable Care Act would throw the IHS into chaos & jeopardize Native communities’ work to fight COVID-19. #WhatsAtStakehttps://t.co/Tp7dOsviWN
And should the committee approve Barrett following the confirmation hearing, Democrats likely won’t be able to stop a final vote on the Senate floor, as it only takes a simple majority to confirm a judicial nominee. Republicans hold 53 seats in the chamber, enabling them to easily confirm hundreds of judges to courts that make decisions affecting tribal nations and their citizens.
“As vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and as the senator representing 23 Pueblos and Tribes of New Mexico in Congress, I believe that Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation would have dangerous implications for Indian Country,” said Udall.
Udall was referring specifically to a Republican-led case against the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Repealing the ACA would undo the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which tribes fought hard to reauthorize in 2010, overcoming years of opposition from GOP members of Congress, as well as from the Republican George W. Bush administration.
Undoing the ACA would also eliminate other provisions that have benefited the first Americans and the care they receive from the Indian Health Service. The Supreme Court is set to hear the case on November 10 and Republicans hope Barrett will be on board by then, to help decide a challenge brought by the Republican attorney general of Texas.
“Confirming a nominee that will dismantle the ACA is unconscionable, and will exact a cruel toll on Native communities who are already fighting the disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Udall said on Monday.