President Trump is expected to announce later today that he has selected Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the Supreme Court seat left open by the passing of the liberal icon, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
With that selection, a partisan battle will ensue over a choice that would drastically reshape the highest court in the country. That battle is what Mr. Trump, who is losing to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in nearly every public poll, is pinning his hopes on for a change in the arc of the 2020 race.
There is always the chance, however slim, that the mercurial Mr. Trump changes his mind at the last minute ahead of the announcement, currently scheduled for 5 p.m. at the White House. But aides to Mr. Trump say that he has not interviewed another candidate this week. And Judge Barrett, whom Mr. Trump considered in 2018 to replace the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, fits the mold of the type of candidate who the president believes will appeal to his conservative base.
That does not mean Mr. Trump’s calculation is right. Several people close to the process said that Mr. Trump wasn’t listening to advice from several people that he consider a judge in Florida, Barbara Lagoa, who was confirmed on a bipartisan vote and who could appeal to the Latino voters the president needs.
But what Judge Barrett does is satisfy the evangelical supporters whose admiration the president craves, and whom Mr. Trump has feared losing throughout his term.
And so begins weeks of debate over the nominee in an election in which Mr. Trump has dwindling chances to change the dynamics.
Alisa Anderson, a lifelong Catholic from Livonia, Mich., does not typically give much weight to the religious backgrounds of political candidates. But the deeply personal way Joseph R. Biden Jr. discusses his Catholicism has caught her attention.
“Biden has shown us that his faith has led him through some very dark times and I have admiration for someone who can admit that,” Ms. Anderson, 57, who is leaning toward Mr. Biden, said in a recent interview. “Trump has never made mention of his faith, unless it’s for political gain.”
That doesn’t bother Nathan Sullivan, a 29-year-old from Tucson, Ariz. For observant Catholics like him, the motive matters less than the results Mr. Trump achieves on issues like abortion.
“He’s a person of action,” said Mr. Sullivan, who voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 and will do so again this time, citing abortion as his most important issue. “I care a lot more about what he does than what he believes.”
Those two perspectives, from two critical swing states, shed light on the radically different appeal Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump hold for American Catholics, a diverse constituency that includes some of the few swing voters left.
Those voters are likely to receive significant attention in the coming weeks now that Mr. Trump has settled on Amy Coney Barrett, a federal appeals court judge with a deeply conservative judicial record, as his choice to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.
In recent years, the majority of white Catholics have leaned Republican and Hispanic Catholics tilted Democratic. This year, even as Mr. Trump trails in many polls, each campaign sees opportunities to reduce the other’s margins with Catholic voters — enough, they hope, to tip key states their way.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump have vastly different political bases, but both are battling over more conservative, religious Latinos in places like Florida and Arizona.
They are also targeting a segment of persuadable white Catholics in the industrial Midwest — in particular, blue-collar, union households in places like Wisconsin and Michigan. It’s a more competitive voting group than the white evangelicals who are among Mr. Trump’s most loyal supporters, and some polls in recent months have offered signs of erosion in the president’s advantage with white Catholics compared with 2016, when they favored him by about two to one.
“If you’re looking in the religious landscape for something that looks like a possible swing constituency, it’s a group Trump won strongly in ’16,” said Robert P. Jones, an author and the chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute. “If I’m the Trump administration, I’m less worried about the white evangelical vote. I’d be deeply worried about where white Catholics are.”
In choosing Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative and a hero to the anti-abortion movement, as his nominee to the Supreme Court, Mr. Trump has found the polar opposite of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a champion of reproductive rights and leader of the liberal wing of the court.
Judge Barrett has been on the bench for only three years, appointed by Mr. Trump to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in 2017. On Friday, opponents of the nomination criticized the Trump administration for rushing the process and said that Judge Barrett, if confirmed, would vote to restrict access to abortion, gut the Affordable Care Act and reverse progress on marriage equality.
“It’s no surprise Trump would want to nominate Amy Coney Barrett, a judge with a track record of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric,” the Human Rights Campaign, a prominent lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer advocacy group, said in a tweet on Friday. “She’s argued against trans rights, marriage equality and reproductive rights — and she shouldn’t be on the Supreme Court.”
Judge Barrett, a Catholic jurist with solid anti-abortion credentials, is a popular figure among conservative Catholics and other Christians, and some supporters have sought to frame the opposition to her nomination as an attack on her religious beliefs.
“It’s go time!” tweeted Kristan Hawkins, the president of the anti-abortion group Students for Life, on Friday. “Get ready for a post Roe v Wade America!” The March for Life called Judge Barrett “an excellent choice” and “exactly the trailblazer we want to see on the court.”
It’s go time! Get ready for a post Roe v Wade America! #ProLifeGen Assemble! This is what we were made for and have been preparing for!
— Kristan Hawkins (@KristanHawkins) September 25, 2020
While it is possible that the nomination could energize Democratic opposition amid a presidential campaign, Michael Steele, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said in an appearance on MSNBC that Mr. Trump’s choice could improve his chances of re-election.
“This pick helps,” he said. “I think the Biden campaign and the Democrats need to be smart about how they approach this nominee.”
In a tweet on Friday, Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, called Judge Barrett “a legal trailblazer” who respected the country’s founding principles.
Becky Pringle, the president of the National Education Association, a teacher’s union, said in a statement on Friday that Judge Barrett had “sided with the powerful against workers, allowed racially segregated workplaces, ruled in favor of Trump policies harming immigrants, and against those seeking to protect women from sexual assault.”
When the top federal prosecutor in Washington recently accused the local police of arresting protesters without probable cause, Attorney General William P. Barr stepped in.
Mr. Barr, who has frequently voiced his support for police officers, brought in the U.S. attorney, Michael Sherwin, to meet with the chief of the Washington police and other top law enforcement officials, escalating the local dispute to the top of the Justice Department.
The meeting grew heated, but ultimately, Mr. Sherwin backed down, according to three people familiar with the encounter.
The episode was an example of Mr. Barr’s approach to running the Justice Department under President Trump: an agenda that is squarely in line not only with the White House but also with the Trump campaign’s law-and-order platform and assertions that Democrats have made the United States less safe. Critics argued that the department’s norm of independence from politics, widely seen as an anticorruption measure that grew out of the post-Watergate era, was at risk.
Mr. Barr has threatened legal action against Democratic leaders who sparred with the president over stay-at-home orders during the pandemic and echoed Mr. Trump’s accusation that they were not tough enough on protesters during nationwide unrest over race and policing. He led federal agents who patrolled the streets of Washington against the wishes of the mayor. And this week, the Justice Department seemed to play into the president’s efforts to undermine voting by mail, making an unusual disclosure about an investigation into nine discarded military mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania.
Under Mr. Barr, the Justice Department is as close as it has been to the White House in a half-century, historians said. Not since John N. Mitchell steered the Nixon re-election effort from the fifth floor of the Justice Department has an attorney general wielded the power of the office to so bluntly serve a presidential campaign, they said.
“The norm has been that attorneys general try to keep the reputation of the department bright and shiny as a nonpartisan legitimate arm of the government that needs to be trusted by everyone,” said Andrew Rudalevige, a history professor at Bowdoin College who studies the power of the presidency.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment. Mr. Barr’s defenders said he was simply applying his own judgment and any benefit to Mr. Trump’s campaign was incidental.
Many Americans watch fireworks displays on Independence Day, eat turkey on Thanksgiving and, on Election Day, head to a school gymnasium, library or senior center to cast a ballot for their favorite presidential candidate.
A deadly pandemic has turned upside down one of these quintessential American routines: the act of voting.
Numerous voters say they are afraid to risk contagion by casting ballots in person. Many poll workers, often at high risk for infection because they are older adults, are afraid to show up. The best alternative, voting by mail, has become tangled in the politics of a deeply divided America as President Trump sows distrust about the process. And now he is suggesting he may not even honor the results of the vote, refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power.
For many election officials, it is a time to stay focused. They are working to set up polling places that are socially distanced and stocked with hand sanitizer. More drop boxes are being installed in some states, and, despite confusion around mailed ballots, county clerks are bracing for processing and counting more of them than ever before.
The pandemic has upended nearly every aspect of election season. Candidates aren’t showing up at roadside diners to court votes by shaking hands and kissing babies. Their supporters aren’t knocking on doors as much as usual or handing out campaign fliers at crowded events, though Mr. Trump has held several rallies. The efforts of get-out-the-vote organizations that typically set up booths at county fairs or concerts have been stymied.
The act of voting has also been complicated, as was demonstrated in the problems faced by some states during the primary election. Voters stood in line for hours to cast ballots in some areas. In others, the tally of mailed ballots took much longer than expected. Officials have warned that the electorate may face similar circumstances during the presidential election.
A remark from Senator Dianne Feinstein during Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Court of Appeals confirmation hearing in 2017 became a badge of defiance for conservatives battling what they saw as anti-religion bias by Democratic lawmakers.
“The dogma lives loudly within you,” Ms. Feinstein, Democrat of California, said at the time.
The comment, and others made by lawmakers during Judge Barrett’s hearing three years ago, are being revisited as court watchers await an announcement from President Trump on Saturday. He is expected to nominate Judge Barrett to fill the Supreme Court seat left open by the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal stalwart.
Judge Barrett, who had been a law professor before joining the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, was grilled at the Senate hearing over whether her Roman Catholic faith would influence her decisions on the bench. The process prompted accusations that Democrats were engaged in religious bigotry.
Ms. Barrett told the senators that she was a faithful Catholic, and that her religious beliefs would not affect her decisions as an appellate judge.
— The New York Times
Two years ago, after nominating Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, President Trump strongly hinted that his choice for the next opening would be a former law professor he had named to a federal appeals court the year before: Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
Now, three years into that job, Judge Barrett has been chosen by Mr. Trump to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Friday. If Judge Barrett were confirmed, she would be the sitting justice with the least courtroom experience, but one viewed as a home run by conservative Christians and anti-abortion activists.
“She is the perfect combination of brilliant jurist and a woman who brings the argument to the court that is potentially the contrary to the views of the sitting women justices,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion political group, who has praised Mr. Trump’s entire shortlist.
The nomination of a judge whom Mr. Trump was quoted last year as saying he was “saving” for Justice Ginsburg’s replacement would almost surely plunge the nation into a bitter and divisive debate over the future of abortion rights, made even more pointed because Judge Barrett would replace a justice who was an unequivocal supporter of those rights. That is a debate that Mr. Trump has not shied away from as president, as his judicial appointments and efforts to court conservatives have repeatedly shown.
Liberal groups have been sounding the alarm over Judge Barrett for two years because of concerns over how she might rule on abortion and the Affordable Care Act.
“Amy Coney Barrett meets Donald Trump’s two main litmus tests: She has made clear she would invalidate the A.C.A. and take health care away from millions of people and undermine a woman’s reproductive freedom,” said Nan Aron, the president of Alliance for Justice, a liberal group.
When Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined President Barack Obama for lunch in his private dining room in July 2013, the White House sought to keep the event quiet — the meeting called for discretion.
Mr. Obama had asked his White House counsel, Kathryn Ruemmler, to set up the lunch so he could build a closer rapport with the justice, according to two people briefed on the conversation. Treading cautiously, he did not directly bring up the subject of retirement to Justice Ginsburg, at 80 the Supreme Court’s oldest member and a two-time cancer patient.
He did, however, raise the looming 2014 midterm elections and how Democrats might lose control of the Senate. Implicit in that conversation was the concern motivating his lunch invitation — the possibility that if the Senate flipped, he would lose a chance to appoint a younger, liberal judge who could hold on to the seat for decades.
But the effort did not work, just as an earlier attempt by Senator Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who was then Judiciary Committee chairman, had failed. Justice Ginsburg left Mr. Obama with the clear impression that she was committed to continuing her work on the court, according to those briefed.
In an interview a year later, Justice Ginsburg deflected questions about the purpose of the lunch. Pressed on what Mr. Obama might think about her potential retirement, she said only, “I think he would agree with me that it’s a question for my own good judgment.”
With Justice Ginsburg’s death last week, Democrats are in a major political battle, as Republicans race to fill her seat and cement the court’s conservative tilt.
Mr. Obama clearly felt compelled to try to avoid just such a scenario, but the art of maneuvering justices off the court is politically delicate and psychologically complicated. They have lifetime appointments and enjoy tremendous power and status, which can be difficult to give up.
Still, presidents throughout American history have strategized to influence the timing of justices’ exits to suit various White House priorities.
After a half-century in public life, with a lead role in several indelible confirmation dramas through the years, Joseph R. Biden Jr. could, if elected, be saddled with a Supreme Court primed to counteract his policy aims on health care, abortion and other defining issues.
Many Democrats now believe that adding seats to the court is the urgent remedy, an extraordinary step that has not been seriously contemplated since the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt. They argue that the court’s legitimacy has already eroded amid the Republican confirmation maneuvers of the last four years.
Yet for Mr. Biden, a proud man of the Senate, such an effort would amount to the sort of norm-razing exercise that might strike him as an escalation too many.
“My inclination is to think that he would just see that as making it more political instead of making it less political,” said Cynthia C. Hogan, a former Judiciary Committee aide who helped lead Mr. Biden’s search for a 2020 running mate. “I think he wants to restore the court to its earlier place of respect.”
The court has unavoidably moved to the center of the campaign, with President Trump’s expected announcement on Saturday that he is nominating Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a favorite of conservatives, to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the stalwart liberal who died last week.
If the judiciary is a subject with which Mr. Biden is intimately familiar — perhaps more so than any modern nominee — it is also one that he has largely avoided in the presidential race, preferring to focus on the calamitous federal response to the coronavirus pandemic and the perpetual volatility of Mr. Trump’s rule.
The broader irony is not lost on Mr. Biden’s allies: He is, at present, effectively powerless to stop the ideological drift of a court wrenched to the right by a president who ran casinos when Mr. Biden ran the Senate Judiciary Committee.
And even if Mr. Biden is elected, his institutionalist bearing might preclude his support for a possible workaround.
Interviews with more than a dozen former colleagues, aides and other contemporaries from his earlier court clashes present Mr. Biden as a conflicted combatant in the judicial trenches, negotiating the constant tug between precedent and pragmatism, convention and conviction.