Could COVID-19 delay the Supreme Court confirmation hearings?

By: - October 3, 2020 5:30 am

President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump pose for a photo with Judge Amy Coney Barrett and her family members after being announced as the President’s nominee for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in the Rose Garden of the White House. | Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead via Flickr Public Domain

One of the few obstacles that could prevent Amy Coney Barrett from being confirmed as a Supreme Court justice this year is the coronavirus.

That potential threat was on display Friday, when news of President Donald Trump’s positive COVID-19 test was followed by a similar announcement from U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Lee met with Barrett on Tuesday, a one-on-one session in which neither was wearing a face mask.

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who also met with Barrett, announced Friday night that he had COVID-19. And U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) tested negative but is quarantining awaiting further testing.

Other Republicans on the committee, which is expected to launch hearings on the Barrett nomination on Oct. 12, have not reported recent testing results, but Senate Democrats seized on the opportunity to argue that a slower pace is needed.

Lee, who spoke during a Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday, said Friday that he was tested after experiencing “symptoms consistent with longtime allergies,” and that he will quarantine for 10 days.

A White House spokesman said Barrett, who met with roughly 30 senators this week, is tested daily for coronavirus, and that she had a negative test result on Friday. The Washington Post also reported Friday that Barrett was diagnosed with the coronavirus earlier this year but has since recovered, with the White House declining to comment on that report.

Another person in attendance at the White House ceremony Saturday announcing Barrett’s nomination also has tested positive for coronavirus: University of Notre Dame president John Jenkins. Barrett is a graduate of the law school and taught there.

A majority of Republicans have lined up behind Barrett’s nomination. Top Senate Democrats, who are unable to block Barrett’s confirmation without Republicans joining their opposition, called for halting Judiciary Committee hearings until the “full extent of potential exposure” is clear.

They also argued that any hearings must be conducted in person, not virtually.

“It’s critical that Chairman [Lindsay] Graham put the health of senators, the nominee, and staff first —-and ensure a full and fair hearing that is not rushed, not truncated, and not virtual,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, (D-N.Y.), and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the Judiciary panel’s ranking Democrat, in a statement. “Otherwise this already illegitimate process will become a dangerous one.”

But Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-Ky.), tweeted Friday morning that there is no change in plans for considering Barrett’s nomination, adding that he had spoken with Trump Friday morning about the nominee.

“Full steam ahead with the fair, thorough, timely process that the nominee, the Court, & the country deserve,” McConnell posted on social media.

Barrett, 48, a judge on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, has been tapped by Trump to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Graham, a South Carolina Republican who chairs the Judiciary panel, posted on social media that he spoke with Lee on Friday, and wished him a quick recovery.

“Look forward to welcoming him back to the @senjudiciary to proceed with the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barret on October 12,” Graham tweeted.

Advance Editor Susan J. Demas contributed to this report.

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Laura Olson
Laura Olson

Laura covers the nation's capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom, a network of nonprofit outlets that includes Michigan Advance. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections, and campaign finance.