Republican senators say Supreme Court nominee should not recuse herself from election cases

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican senators meeting with U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett on Tuesday praised President Donald Trump’s pick for the lifetime post, rejecting Democrats’ assertion that she should recuse herself from potential election-related cases.

Barrett began holding the customary meetings with individual senators that precede Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings, making Majority Leader Mitch McConnell her first stop. A favorite of religious conservatives, Barrett stood silently for reporters and TV cameras, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and McConnell.

Senator Lindsay Graham, the Republican committee chairman who met with Barrett later in the day, said she should not recuse herself if she is confirmed and the justices are called upon to decide disputes arising from the Nov. 3 election in which Trump is seeking a second term in office.

“That is one of the most absurd ideas I’ve ever heard,” Graham said as he met Barrett, saying she does not have a “legal conflict” requiring recusal.

Senator Ted Cruz, a Judiciary Committee member, said the entire reason the Senate should act quickly to confirm a ninth justice “is so the Supreme Court can resolve any cases that arise in the wake of the election.”

Democrats are urging Barrett to recuse herself from any election-related cases because of Trump’s comments that he expects the justices potentially to decide the election outcome, but decisions on recusal are left to individual justices. The Supreme Court has determined a U.S. presidential election’s outcome only once, in 2000, leading President George W. Bush to the White House.

Pence, McConnell and some other Republican senators did not reply to questions about recusal. Democrats are likely to seek a pledge that she do so.

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Responding to a Judiciary Committee questionnaire, Barrett said she would use a “recusal list” to identify conflicts. This would include recusing herself from cases that involved her husband and sister, practicing attorneys, as well as the University of Notre Dame, where she taught. She would also recuse herself from matters where she took part as an appeals court judge.

Trump named Barrett on Saturday as his nominee to replace liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Sept. 18. Thus far, Barrett has met only with Republican senators.

With Democrats opposing her nomination, Pence said Barrett should receive a “respectful hearing” before the Judiciary Committee, followed by swift Senate confirmation. Trump has asked that the Senate confirm her before the election.

The Republican president named Barrett in 2017 to the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley said of Barrett: “With her reputation, I would say that she’s got a good chance of getting my vote.”

Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, and her confirmation appeared a virtual lock. But Democrats could try to make the process rocky with the election looming. If Barrett is confirmed as expected, the court’s conservative majority would widen to 6-3.

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Confirmation hearings are set to begin on Oct. 12. Graham has said his committee will likely vote on the nomination on Oct. 22, setting up a final confirmation vote on the Senate floor by the end of the month.

Democrats including the party’s presidential nominee, Joe Biden, have said the court’s vacancy should be filled by the winner of the election, a view shared by a majority of Americans, according to recent opinion polls.

Senate Republicans in 2016 refused to consider a Supreme Court nomination by Trump’s Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, because they said it would be inappropriate to do so during an election year.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, interviewed on ABC TV’s talk show “The View,” said, “No one disputes” Barrett’s personal characteristics, but her presence on the court could threaten healthcare, the environment and other issues.

Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York and Richard Cowan, Daphne Psaledakis, Susan Cornwell, David Morgan, Tim Ahmann and Eric Beech in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham, Ross Colvin, Cynthia Osterman and Jonathan Oatis