President Trump is expected to announce later today that he has selected Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the Supreme Court seat left open by the passing of the liberal icon, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
With that selection, a partisan battle will ensue over a choice that would drastically reshape the highest court in the country. That battle is what Mr. Trump, who is losing to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in nearly every public poll, is pinning his hopes on for a change in the arc of the 2020 race.
There is always the chance, however slim, that the mercurial Mr. Trump changes his mind at the last minute ahead of the announcement, currently scheduled for 5 p.m. at the White House. But aides to Mr. Trump say that he has not interviewed another candidate this week. And Judge Barrett, whom Mr. Trump considered in 2018 to replace the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, fits the mold of the type of candidate who the president believes will appeal to his conservative base.
That does not mean Mr. Trump’s calculation is right. Several people close to the process said that Mr. Trump wasn’t listening to advice from several people that he consider a judge in Florida, Barbara Lagoa, who was confirmed on a bipartisan vote and who could appeal to the Latino voters the president needs.
But what Judge Barrett does is satisfy the evangelical supporters whose admiration the president craves, and whom Mr. Trump has feared losing throughout his term.
And so begins weeks of debate over the nominee in an election in which Mr. Trump has dwindling chances to change the dynamics.
Alisa Anderson, a lifelong Catholic from Livonia, Mich., does not typically give much weight to the religious backgrounds of political candidates. But the deeply personal way Joseph R. Biden Jr. discusses his Catholicism has caught her attention.
“Biden has shown us that his faith has led him through some very dark times and I have admiration for someone who can admit that,” Ms. Anderson, 57, who is leaning toward Mr. Biden, said in a recent interview. “Trump has never made mention of his faith, unless it’s for political gain.”
That doesn’t bother Nathan Sullivan, a 29-year-old from Tucson, Ariz. For observant Catholics like him, the motive matters less than the results Mr. Trump achieves on issues like abortion.
“He’s a person of action,” said Mr. Sullivan, who voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 and will do so again this time, citing abortion as his most important issue. “I care a lot more about what he does than what he believes.”
Those two perspectives, from two critical swing states, shed light on the radically different appeal Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump hold for American Catholics, a diverse constituency that includes some of the few swing voters left.
Those voters are likely to receive significant attention in the coming weeks now that Mr. Trump has settled on Amy Coney Barrett, a federal appeals court judge with a deeply conservative judicial record, as his choice to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.
In recent years, the majority of white Catholics have leaned Republican and Hispanic Catholics tilted Democratic. This year, even as Mr. Trump trails in many polls, each campaign sees opportunities to reduce the other’s margins with Catholic voters — enough, they hope, to tip key states their way.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump have vastly different political bases, but both are battling over more conservative, religious Latinos in places like Florida and Arizona.
They are also targeting a segment of persuadable white Catholics in the industrial Midwest — in particular, blue-collar, union households in places like Wisconsin and Michigan. It’s a more competitive voting group than the white evangelicals who are among Mr. Trump’s most loyal supporters, and some polls in recent months have offered signs of erosion in the president’s advantage with white Catholics compared with 2016, when they favored him by about two to one.
“If you’re looking in the religious landscape for something that looks like a possible swing constituency, it’s a group Trump won strongly in ’16,” said Robert P. Jones, an author and the chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute. “If I’m the Trump administration, I’m less worried about the white evangelical vote. I’d be deeply worried about where white Catholics are.”
In choosing Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative and a hero to the anti-abortion movement, as his nominee to the Supreme Court, Mr. Trump has found the polar opposite of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a champion of reproductive rights and leader of the liberal wing of the court.
Judge Barrett has been on the bench for only three years, appointed by Mr. Trump to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in 2017. On Friday, opponents of the nomination criticized the Trump administration for rushing the process and said that Judge Barrett, if confirmed, would vote to restrict access to abortion, gut the Affordable Care Act and reverse progress on marriage equality.
“It’s no surprise Trump would want to nominate Amy Coney Barrett, a judge with a track record of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric,” the Human Rights Campaign, a prominent lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer advocacy group, said in a tweet on Friday. “She’s argued against trans rights, marriage equality and reproductive rights — and she shouldn’t be on the Supreme Court.”
Judge Barrett, a Catholic jurist with solid anti-abortion credentials, is a popular figure among conservative Catholics and other Christians, and some supporters have sought to frame the opposition to her nomination as an attack on her religious beliefs.
“It’s go time!” tweeted Kristan Hawkins, the president of the anti-abortion group Students for Life, on Friday. “Get ready for a post Roe v Wade America!” The March for Life called Judge Barrett “an excellent choice” and “exactly the trailblazer we want to see on the court.”
It’s go time! Get ready for a post Roe v Wade America! #ProLifeGen Assemble! This is what we were made for and have been preparing for!
— Kristan Hawkins (@KristanHawkins) September 25, 2020
While it is possible that the nomination could energize Democratic opposition amid a presidential campaign, Michael Steele, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said in an appearance on MSNBC that Mr. Trump’s choice could improve his chances of re-election.
“This pick helps,” he said. “I think the Biden campaign and the Democrats need to be smart about how they approach this nominee.”
In a tweet on Friday, Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, called Judge Barrett “a legal trailblazer” who respected the country’s founding principles.
Becky Pringle, the president of the National Education Association, a teacher’s union, said in a statement on Friday that Judge Barrett had “sided with the powerful against workers, allowed racially segregated workplaces, ruled in favor of Trump policies harming immigrants, and against those seeking to protect women from sexual assault.”
When the top federal prosecutor in Washington recently accused the local police of arresting protesters without probable cause, Attorney General William P. Barr stepped in.
Mr. Barr, who has frequently voiced his support for police officers, brought in the U.S. attorney, Michael Sherwin, to meet with the chief of the Washington police and other top law enforcement officials, escalating the local dispute to the top of the Justice Department.
The meeting grew heated, but ultimately, Mr. Sherwin backed down, according to three people familiar with the encounter.
The episode was an example of Mr. Barr’s approach to running the Justice Department under President Trump: an agenda that is squarely in line not only with the White House but also with the Trump campaign’s law-and-order platform and assertions that Democrats have made the United States less safe. Critics argued that the department’s norm of independence from politics, widely seen as an anticorruption measure that grew out of the post-Watergate era, was at risk.
Mr. Barr has threatened legal action against Democratic leaders who sparred with the president over stay-at-home orders during the pandemic and echoed Mr. Trump’s accusation that they were not tough enough on protesters during nationwide unrest over race and policing. He led federal agents who patrolled the streets of Washington against the wishes of the mayor. And this week, the Justice Department seemed to play into the president’s efforts to undermine voting by mail, making an unusual disclosure about an investigation into nine discarded military mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania.
Under Mr. Barr, the Justice Department is as close as it has been to the White House in a half-century, historians said. Not since John N. Mitchell steered the Nixon re-election effort from the fifth floor of the Justice Department has an attorney general wielded the power of the office to so bluntly serve a presidential campaign, they said.
“The norm has been that attorneys general try to keep the reputation of the department bright and shiny as a nonpartisan legitimate arm of the government that needs to be trusted by everyone,” said Andrew Rudalevige, a history professor at Bowdoin College who studies the power of the presidency.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment. Mr. Barr’s defenders said he was simply applying his own judgment and any benefit to Mr. Trump’s campaign was incidental.
Many Americans watch fireworks displays on Independence Day, eat turkey on Thanksgiving and, on Election Day, head to a school gymnasium, library or senior center to cast a ballot for their favorite presidential candidate.
A deadly pandemic has turned upside down one of these quintessential American routines: the act of voting.
Numerous voters say they are afraid to risk contagion by casting ballots in person. Many poll workers, often at high risk for infection because they are older adults, are afraid to show up. The best alternative, voting by mail, has become tangled in the politics of a deeply divided America as President Trump sows distrust about the process. And now he is suggesting he may not even honor the results of the vote, refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power.
For many election officials, it is a time to stay focused. They are working to set up polling places that are socially distanced and stocked with hand sanitizer. More drop boxes are being installed in some states, and, despite confusion around mailed ballots, county clerks are bracing for processing and counting more of them than ever before.
The pandemic has upended nearly every aspect of election season. Candidates aren’t showing up at roadside diners to court votes by shaking hands and kissing babies. Their supporters aren’t knocking on doors as much as usual or handing out campaign fliers at crowded events, though Mr. Trump has held several rallies. The efforts of get-out-the-vote organizations that typically set up booths at county fairs or concerts have been stymied.
The act of voting has also been complicated, as was demonstrated in the problems faced by some states during the primary election. Voters stood in line for hours to cast ballots in some areas. In others, the tally of mailed ballots took much longer than expected. Officials have warned that the electorate may face similar circumstances during the presidential election.