Why the Dems' boycott of today's Amy Coney Barrett vote matters

As Republicans scramble to advance Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court nomination, Senate Dems are boycotting a key procedural step.
Image: Judge Amy Coney Barrett, US-VOTE-JUSTICE
Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett is sworn into her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on Oct. 12, 2020.Alex Edelman / AFP - Getty Images

We are still learning more about Judge Amy Coney Barrett's background, including revelations this week that she served for nearly three years on the board of "private Christian schools that effectively barred admission to children of same-sex parents and made it plain that openly gay and lesbian teachers weren't welcome in the classroom."

That's the sort of background that might've made for interesting questions during Barrett's Supreme Court confirmation hearings, but there were elements of the conservative judge's history that senators did not know at the time.

Nevertheless, the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee is moving forward today with Barrett's confirmation process, though as the Associated Press reported, the panel's Democratic members won't be there.

Senate Democrats are set to boycott voting on Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett at the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, but there is little they can do to prevent Republicans from rushing to confirm President Donald Trump's pick before Election Day. The Judiciary Committee, which is controlled by Republicans, is expected to change the rules if necessary to recommend Barrett's nomination to the full Senate. Senators are planning a rare weekend session to secure her confirmation on Monday.

Here's the context: four years after GOP senators said considering a Supreme Court nominee within eight months of an election was unacceptable, Republicans plan to confirm a Supreme Court nominee eight days before Election Day 2020. But before that can happen, the Senate Judiciary Committee has to move Barrett's nomination forward, and the first procedural step -- what's called a committee "markup" -- is today.

Democrats clearly don't have the votes to stop the process, but they can try to deny the committee a quorum by boycotting the proceedings. As Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) explained on the show last night, committee rules require that at least two members of the minority party are required to be on hand for the vote.

A New York Times report added, "Democrats, livid over the extraordinarily speedy process, planned to spurn the committee vote altogether. By doing so, they effectively dared Republicans to break their own rules to muscle the nomination through."

So what will happen? Republicans will break their own rules to muscle the nomination through.

Indeed, Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a statement yesterday that he didn't much care about the Democrats' strategy. "As to my Democratic colleagues' refusal to attend the markup, that is a choice they are making," the South Carolinian said. "I believe it does a disservice to Judge Barrett who deserves a vote, up or down."

Of course, Judge Merrick Garland also deserved a vote, up or down. Graham -- who publicly vowed to honor his principles regardless of circumstances -- said in 2016 that Garland couldn't have a vote because March was too close to November.

Evidently, those principles were far more malleable than the Republican let on at the time.

Once GOP senators circumvent existing rules and send Barrett's nomination to the Senate floor, Democrats could conceivably boycott the final confirmation vote, too, though it's not yet clear if that will happen. Watch this space.

Update: As expected, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee ignored quorum rules and approved Barrett's nomination this morning. While Democrats were not on hand for the vote, staffers put pictures of people who are likely to suffer from Barrett's rulings in Democratic members' seats.