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Idaho Sen. Crapo, among first to meet with Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, praises her ‘stellar credentials’

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 30, 2020

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, bumps elbows with Judge Amy Coney Barrett during a meeting Tuesday. (Office of Sen. Mike Crapo)
Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, bumps elbows with Judge Amy Coney Barrett during a meeting Tuesday. (Office of Sen. Mike Crapo)

WASHINGTON – Sen. Mike Crapo praised Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett after he met with the federal appeals court judge Tuesday, making the Idaho Republican one of the first lawmakers to meet with President Donald Trump’s pick for the high court.

Crapo, a 21-year Senate veteran and member of the Judiciary Committee, told The Spokesman-Review he spoke with the jurist for about half an hour and left the conversation reassured that she would adhere to a judicial philosophy pioneered by her mentor, the late justice and conservative stalwart Antonin Scalia.

“She has absolutely stellar credentials,” Crapo said, citing “her commitment to be a judge and call the balls and strikes, rather than to be an activist trying to create law.”

“She reaffirmed that she understood that role,” the senator continued, “and that she’s committed to interpret the law and the Constitution as they were written.”

Trump announced Barrett’s nomination Sept. 26 to fill the vacancy left by the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a hero of progressives who had died the previous week at age 87 from complications of pancreatic cancer. Ginsburg’s passing a little more than a month before the election gave Trump an extraordinary third Supreme Court pick in less than four years.

Crapo’s fellow Idaho Republican Sen. Jim Risch met with Barrett on Wednesday.

{span“Judge Barrett’s credentials are impressive and her legal acumen was evident in my discussion with her. Judge Barrett’s respect for and defense of the U.S. Constitution makes her an exceptional nominee to serve as an Associate Justice to the Supreme Court. Should her nomination come to the floor of the Senate, as I expect it to, I look forward to casting my vote on her nomination,” Risch said in a statement.

Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Democrats, have not yet announced meetings with Barrett, and some Democratic senators have said they won’t meet with Trump’s nominee.

Supreme Court nominees have traditionally met one-on-one with all or most of the upper chamber’s 100 members before their confirmation hearings, but the customary meetings are not required to confirm a justice.

Democrats have accused the GOP of hypocrisy for moving forward with Barrett’s confirmation process after Republicans blocked President Barack Obama’s nominee in 2016 on the grounds that it was an election year and the next president should fill the vacancy, left by Scalia’s death in February of that year. The Senate eventually confirmed Trump’s pick, Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Crapo, however, pointed out that in past instances where a Supreme Court seat opened in an election year, nominees were usually confirmed when the same party controlled both the Senate and the White House, while in cases of divided government most election-year nominees were not confirmed.

Barrett, a former law professor at the University of Notre Dame, worked as a law clerk for Scalia more than two decades ago and has followed in her mentor’s jurisprudential footsteps ever since.

“His judicial philosophy is mine too,” Barrett said at the White House on Saturday. “A judge must apply the law as written. Judges are not policymakers and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they might hold.”

That idea, known as “textualism” – or, in the context of the Constitution, “originalism” – holds that jurists should interpret a law literally and not account for what its authors’ intent may have been, nor the modern-day context.

While the doctrine does not align perfectly with either major party, it has generally been applied in rulings lauded by conservatives, while progressives tend to favor the idea of a “living, breathing Constitution” that should be interpreted with consideration for a changing world.

Shaakirrah Sanders, a law professor at the University of Idaho, said even self-described originalist justices have strayed from that doctrine in considering cases.

“None of the members of the Court have been solely originalists or solely non-originalists,” Sanders said. “Individual members of the Court have been willing to use whatever doctrine is out there to support their positions, and that’s what we want our judges to do. We wouldn’t want our judges to be married to only one theory of interpretation.”

Trump nominated Barrett in 2017 to serve as federal judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Despite her relatively short time on the bench has amassed a record that gives conservatives like Crapo confidence.

She was reportedly on the shortlist of candidates for Trump’s second Supreme Court pick, a spot that went to Justice Brett Kavanaugh. At the time, Trump reportedly said he was “saving” Barrett in case Ginsburg’s seat opened up.

Under Trump, the GOP has been able to dramatically reshape the federal judiciary, confirming 217 new judges as of Wednesday. At just 48, Barrett promises to ensure a conservative majority on the high court for a generation.

Asked what he looks for in a judge, Crapo said he wants “someone who recognizes the difference between the role of the Supreme Court under our Constitution and the Congress and the president.”

“I know a lot of members of the Senate seem to think that they want someone from their personal political perspective to be on the court,” Crapo said. “Unfortunately, that implies that they believe there is political decision-making on the Court.”

Mary Pat Treuthart, a law professor at Gonzaga University, said that even if judges themselves bristle at the idea of being political actors, the reality is that judicial appointments have gotten more partisan in recent decades.

“We’ve had examples of the process arguably becoming more politicized over time,” Treuthart said. “If you look at the votes for Supreme Court justices or even for federal judicial candidates at an earlier point, in many cases they were almost unanimous, and now we’re seeing these very split decisions along strictly partisan lines.”

Despite Democrats’ opposition to her nomination, Barrett appears likely to be confirmed either just before the Nov. 3 election or in the days afterward.

Orion Donovan-Smith's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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