Donald Trump’s expected pick for America’s highest court, Amy Coney Barrett, is an “ideological fanatic” who threatens abortion rights, healthcare and the environment, activists warned as the White House unveiling of the president’s third supreme court pick approached.
Trump planned to announce the conservative Indiana judge as his nominee on Saturday afternoon, according to multiple media reports. Barrett is the ideological opposite of the woman she would succeed, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died earlier this month aged 87.
Barrett, 48, a devout Catholic who serves on the 7th US circuit court of appeals in Chicago, is a favorite of religious conservatives and could seal Trump’s legacy by tilting the court right for a generation. The Republican-controlled Senate will race to confirm his nominee before the presidential election on 3 November.
The supreme court is a vital check on presidential power and wields huge influence on American society. A 6-3 rightwing majority would potentially curb abortion rights, strike down gun control laws and uphold new restrictions on voting rights.
Meagan Hatcher-Mays, director of democracy policy at the grassroots organisation Indivisible, said: “Justice Ginsburg was a brilliant lawyer who dedicated her life to advancing gender equality and civil rights for everyone. Amy Coney Barrett cannot claim the same. The idea that Amy Coney Barrett could replace RBG on the supreme court is an insult to RBG’s life and legacy.”
Other campaigners warned of the threat to the planet posed by Barrett’s likely opposition to environmental regulation. Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said: “Judge Barrett is an ideological fanatic who lacks the temperament to rule fairly in the interests of all Americans.
“Her slim judicial record shows that she’s hostile to the environment and will slam shut the courthouse doors to public interest advocates, to the delight of corporate polluters. Environmental justice, our climate and wildlife on the brink of extinction will all suffer if Barrett is confirmed.”
Reproductive rights advocacy groups have expressed alarm that Barrett could help overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision that legalised abortion nationwide. On 10 November, the court is scheduled to hear arguments in a major case in which Trump and fellow Republicans are seeking to invalidate the 2010 Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. If confirmed, Barrett could cast a decisive vote.
Brian Fallon, director of the pressure group Demand Justice, said: “Barrett’s views may make her a darling of Trump’s base, but they will also make clear to everyone else that nothing less than the survival of the Affordable Care Act and Roe v Wade are on the line in this fight. Senate Democrats need to be prepared to resist this pick at all costs.”
But Democrats have few options to block Barrett’s path. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the chamber and only two GOP senators have expressed opposition to moving forward before the election. A vote on the Senate floor is expected by late October.
Barrett would be Trump’s third lifetime appointment to the supreme court, a record which, combined with 200 other federal court judges, is seen as a crucial in shoring up support among Christian evangelicals and other conservatives. Evangelical leaders were due to meet Trump in the Oval Office on Saturday, before the unveiling of his supreme court pick.
But Trump’s move could also energise liberal voters to turn out in November.
Barrett previously served as a clerk to conservative supreme court justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016. As an appellate judge, she has voted in favour of one of Trump’s hardline immigration policies and showed support for expansive gun rights. She also authored a ruling making it easier for college students accused of campus sexual assaults to sue their institutions.
Catherine Glenn Foster, president and chief executive of the anti-abortion group Americans United For Life, praised Trump for making a “brave and ambitious choice” and called Barrett “the best and most qualified successor” to Ginsburg.
Trump is the first sitting president to attend the annual anti-abortion March for Life in Washington. Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, said Barrett’s expected nomination “is welcome and exciting news for everyone who values the rule of law and our constitutional rights”.
She added: “We have confidence that she will fairly apply the law and constitution as written, which includes protecting the most vulnerable in our nation: our unborn children. She is a highly gifted jurist and a woman of great accomplishment – a role model for women and girls across the country – and she deserves a vote as expeditiously as possible.”
Sarah Sanders, a former White House press secretary, added: “If liberals actually cared about empowering women, they’d be applauding Judge Amy Coney Barrett – a working mom with impeccable legal credentials – not denigrating her with bigoted attacks on her Christian faith.”
Barrett may even have a role to play in the presidential election. Trump suggested this week that the supreme court would be called upon to rule on the outcome, as it did in favour of George W Bush against Al Gore in 2000.
“I think it’s very important that we have nine justices,” the president said.
Trump has repeatedly and without evidence said that voting by mail could lead to a surge in election fraud. He also declined to commit to a peaceful transfer of power.
Ginsburg made history on Friday as the first woman and first Jewish person to lie in state in the US Capitol. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden attended the ceremony, a day after Trump met with jeers and boos as he visited Ginsburg’s casket outside the supreme court building.
She will be buried next week at Arlington National Cemetery, beside her husband.