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Looking Ahead: Confirmation Process Of Trump Supreme Court Nominee

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Earlier this evening, President Trump ended the speculation when he announced his nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Today it is my honor to nominate one of our nation's most brilliant and gifted legal minds to the Supreme Court. She is a woman of unparalleled achievement, towering intellect, sterling credentials and unyielding loyalty to the Constitution - Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

(APPLAUSE)

MARTIN: Amy Coney Barrett currently sits on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Indiana. President Trump has said correctly that his office carries the constitutional obligation to make a nomination. But the timing - just over a week after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, just weeks before fiercely contested national elections at a time when early voting is already taking place - makes this one of the most controversial nominations in recent decades.

Joining me now to talk about the nominee and the politics is NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Nina, welcome back.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Thank you.

MARTIN: And NPR senior political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, welcome to you as well.

And, Nina, let me start with you. What do we know...

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: What do we know about Judge Barrett?

TOTENBERG: Well, we know that she's been on the 3rd - on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals for three years, authored about 100 opinions. Prior to that, she was on the Notre Dame faculty for 15 years, was a beloved teacher and had an extensive record of legal writings in academia. That record is generally considered hostile to abortion rights and to Obamacare. At her confirmation hearing three years ago, she said that as an appeals court judge, of course, she would be bound by Supreme Court rulings. If she's confirmed, though, she will not be so bound.

And I think you could look for her, conceivably, to vote to overrule some of those, including some of the Supreme Court's major abortion precedents. She's been critical of Chief Justice Roberts' opinion upholding Obamacare in addition. If confirmed to the court - she's 48 years old. She'd be the youngest justice on the court and would almost certainly serve for decades to come.

MARTIN: And what would be the impact on the court if she is confirmed, given that the court already has a conservative 5-4 majority?

TOTENBERG: Well, there'd be a 6-3 majority - at least on any, you know, close case. And so that means that even if one or - one other of the justices were to vote with the court's liberals, it would actually take two of them to switch their positions or to switch the position of the court from what one might expect. It also means, I think, that Chief Justice John Roberts would have less leverage. He, in the last term, was a critical vote in several important cases. And he would no longer be a critical vote. So his controlling vote would no longer be controlling. And that means that the court would go in a very, very conservative direction - probably for a very long time.

MARTIN: Let's go to Mara Liasson. Mara, in terms of the politics - just 38 days until Election Day - how does President Trump going ahead with this nomination today affect the election on November 3? What are the potential risks and benefits for the president and for - frankly for his party?

LIASSON: Well, there are risks and benefits. And we're all waiting to see which side is galvanized and energized more by this nomination. Is it Republican voters who now have gotten pretty much the holy grail - what they've been working for for 40 years? Conservative activists have wanted a durable conservative majority on the court. Now, they're going to get one, 6-3. Does that mean that they're happy and excited and grateful and turn out in larger numbers to vote for Donald Trump? Do suburban women take a look at Amy Coney Barrett and her beautiful family and decide she's like them and put aside some of their concerns about Donald Trump's behavior? Or do Democrats, who are extremely angry and upset, feel the process was unfair, feel their rights are going to be taken away by a 6-3 court? Are they more energized? So those are the big questions.

It also could have an effect in some Senate races. It could make it harder for Susan Collins of Maine or Cory Gardner of Colorado - two Republican incumbents - to win reelection because they are in blue states. But, on the other hand, it could help Lindsey Graham who is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he is in a surprisingly close race in South Carolina. So we're going to wait and see.

MARTIN: Very briefly - the confirmation hearings begin on October 12. Nina, what do you expect to see - as briefly as you can?

TOTENBERG: Well, I expect to see a lot of controversy. But in the last analysis, it will be - the Democrats will try to frame the argument in terms of Obamacare and abortion, I suspect, and the fact that they think that this is horribly unfair, undemocratic. And if - that last argument, Mara can speak to this, may not have much leverage.

MARTIN: Well, I'm sure she will in the days ahead. That's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg and NPR senior political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you both so much.

TOTENBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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