US President Donald Trump has revelled in one of his signature achievements at a White House ceremony and subsequent photo-op that has enraged his critics.
Just eight days before the US election, the president had a rather public celebration of his third Supreme Court nominee, as conservative justice Amy Coney Barrett was officially sworn in on Monday night (local time).
The made-for-TV prime-time event on the White House lawn mirrored one a month ago, when Ms Barrett's nomination was announced, which preceded a coronavirus outbreak among top Republicans including the president himself.
It came little more than an hour after the Republican-controlled Senate confirmed Ms Barrett to the lifetime appointment on a 52-48 vote, with Democrats unified in opposition.
The confirmation of the deeply Christian nominee as successor to liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last month, creates a 6-3 conservative majority on the country’s high court.
The appointment of supreme court judges by a sitting president is a major concern among voters, particularly on the conservative side of politics, and the rushed appointment of Ms Barrett will register as a major win among the country’s Christian conservatives.
In brief remarks at her swearing in, Ms Barrett declared her independence from Mr Trump and the political process even as the president stood behind her.
“The oath that I have solemnly taken tonight means at its core I will do the job without fear or favour and do it independently of the political branches and of my own preferences,” she said.
Her subsequent actions had some struggling to believe her pronouncements of independence as she appeared for an unusual photo-op on the White House balcony ahead of a celebration, while the event was used by the Trump campaign for promotional material.
Balcony moment labelled a ‘disgrace’
CNN’s Jake Tapper tweeted that some Republicans quietly conceded it was a bad look for a judge who is supposed to remain staunchly independent.
“Last night a GOP consultant messaged me about this event,” he wrote.
“If I’m ACB, I don’t go to this. Looks bad and she doesn’t need him anymore,” the consultant told him.
Meanwhile social media erupted with anger over what some viewed as the “desecration” of the enshrined separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of the US government.
“The trashiest, most corrupt time period in American history. This makes me want to vomit,” Californian voter Ricky Davila remarked.
“What a disgrace. She’s parading her corruption in front of upstanding Americans like a red cape,” New Yorker Josh Marshall said.
Could Supreme Court appointment impact election result?
Mr Trump has said he expects the court to decide the outcome of the election and wants Ms Barrett to participate on any election-related cases that go before the justices.
It’s quite likely she could be the deciding vote in cases brought by Republicans in key battleground states to limit the window that mail-in ballots can be counted, and to have certain ballots deemed invalid. With Democrats more likely to vote early or by mail, Republicans have already launched pending claims in key states of North Carolina, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania aimed at reducing the amount of non-election day ballots.
Ms Barrett’s confirmation shifts the Supreme Court further to the right, which could pave the way to conservative rulings curbing abortion rights, expanding gun rights and limiting voting rights, among other things.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said the Republican majority was “lighting its credibility on fire” by proceeding with the vote so close to the election, after blocking Democratic President Barack Obama's election-year nominee in 2016.
“The truth is this nomination is part of a decades-long effort to tilt the judiciary to the far right to accomplish through the courts what Republicans could never accomplish through Congress,” he said.
At just 48, Ms Barrett will likely be on the court for many decades to come.
Her nomination was the closest high court confirmation ever to a presidential election, and the first in modern times with no support from the minority party.
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