SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee expects the president to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to fill the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy.
Conservatives want President Donald Trump to name someone in the mold of Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas and the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the Utah Republican said.
“Amy Coney Barrett is exactly that kind of nominee. That’s why I hope and expect it will be her,” Lee said Tuesday on Fox News.
Barrett, a judge on the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, is among five women Trump is considering to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last Friday. Barrett, who was on the president’s short list for the seat that went to Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, has reportedly emerged as the front-runner.
Lee, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would “wholeheartedly” support a Barrett nomination.
“She’s got a proven track record. She’s someone who understands the difference between judging and lawmaking. She understands that she’s there to interpret the law based on what the words say rather than on the basis of what some social scientist or lawyer might wish that it said,” he said.
“That’s exactly the kind of person we need on the Supreme Court, and I think it will and should be her.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said he wants a conservative justice to replace the liberal Ginsburg, but has not publicly thrown his support behind a candidate. He said the next justice should reflect the values of Utah and the nation and have unquestioned scholarship and intellectual capacity, and follow the law and the Constitution as written.
Lee defended Barrett, a graduate of Notre Dame Law School, in 2017 when Democrats questioned her about her religious beliefs during a Judiciary Committee hearing on her nomination to the federal appeals court. Those same questions will likely arise if Trump picks her.
Barrett is a Roman Catholic and member of a small, tightly knit Christian group called People of Praise. Members of the group swear a lifelong oath of loyalty to one another and are assigned and accountable to a personal adviser, called a “head,” who helps them make important decisions.
Lee cited the infamous “extermination order” Missouri Gov. Lilburn Boggs signed to rid the state of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1838. He said at the time that bigotry can never be allowed to repeat itself.
Both Lee and Romney support the Senate advancing a nominee before the Nov. 3 general election. Lee said it is “imperative” for the Senate to vote before Election Day.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Sunday showed that 62% of Americans want the winner of the presidential election to nominate the new justice, while 23% disagreed and the remainder were not sure.
“The one poll that matters is among U.S. senators, and you’re going to have a majority of U.S. senators who believe that we need to fill this vacancy,” Lee said.
Democrats argue that it would be unfair for Republicans to fill the seat in a presidential election year when they refused to consider President Barack Obama’s pick, Merrick Garland, in the last year of his presidency in 2016.
“You would think that after the Republican majority led a historic blockade just four years ago to keep open a vacancy on the Supreme Court because it was an election year, they’d have the honor and decency to apply their own rule when the same scenario came around again,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday.
Lee said in a tweet Wednesday that replacing Ginsburg should not be controversial and would reduce the likelihood of political controversies being settled by unelected judges.
“That’s what the left’s freak-out is really about,” he tweeted.
A Supreme Court vacancy has arisen 29 times in an election year, Lee said. In 10 of those cases the presidency and Senate were held by opposing parties. The Senate rejected nine of those nominees, just like it did Garland, he said.
“It was surprising to no one that we did it that way and the Democrats would have done it exactly the same way were the shoe on the other foot,” Lee said.
It would have been pointless and a waste of time to run Garland through a Senate hearing when the outcome was already known, he said.
“There’s nothing in the Constitution that requires us to hold that vote or to even hold a hearing, and it would have been cruel to do so knowing that we were going to reject him,” Lee said.