By voting along partisan lines to confirm the 48-year-old Amy Barrett in a lifetime appointment to the United States Supreme Court, Republicans have handed to Mr Donald Trump a major victory on the eve of the Presidential election due in a week’s time.
Her appointment under controversial circumstances gives conservatives a 6-3 majority on the Bench, one that is expected to have far-reaching consequences.
The first of these may come soon after the election results are announced, as the President has already said he expects the court to decide the outcome of his battle with Democratic contender Joe Biden. Mr. Trump is on record as having questioned several of the poll procedures, especially mail-in voting which he alleges will be riddled with fraud.
Should the contest be a close one that he loses, the President is unlikely to accept defeat with grace and may opt to inject acrimony into the process, in the hope that the six conservatives on the Bench ~ three of them appointed by him ~ will rule in his favour. His belief will be bolstered by the fact that just before the Senate confirmation, the five conservative judges had voted to cut short the deadline for receiving mail-in votes in the key state of Wisconsin, a ruling that favours Republicans.
The controversy around the appointment stems principally from it having taken place so close to the Presidential election ~ unprecedented in itself and also, according to Democrats, duplicitous as the Republicans had blocked a similar proposal in the twilight stage of Mr Barack Obama’s presidency by saying it reeked of impropriety.
Certainly, Mr Trump has made his expectations of Justice Barrett quite clear by touting her appointment to loudly cheering supporters at campaign rallies.
But beyond the issues that the election outcome may throw up, the sharp tilt towards conservatism is expected to lead to several liberal pronouncements of America’s highest court to be revisited.
The first of these will be the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which will come up for adjudication a week after the election.
The Act, which helped millions of Americans obtain access to health insurance and stopped insurers from denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, is opposed by Mr Trump and by several Republican-ruled states.
In addition, Ms Barrett’s positions on abortion, climate change and presidential powers ~ on which she evaded questions during confirmation hearings ~ are likely to be conservative.
A mother of seven children, five borne by her including one with Down’s syndrome and two adopted from Haiti, Justice Barrett’s position on abortion even in special circumstances has endeared her to Christian conservatives.
Thus, many Americans feel that the 1973 Roe vs Wade judgement of the Supreme Court, which gave women the right to choose to abort without excessive government intervention, may be overturned. Already liberals have raised a cry for expanding the Supreme Court to negate the Conservative majority, and this may be one of the first demands made on Mr Biden should he make it to the White House.