Reporter's Notebook: Sen. Murkowski on the 'incontrovertible' facts of Barrett vote
Sen. Lisa Murkowski fears courts are becoming more political losing confidence
Three hours before the Senate was poised to vote on the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to serve on the Supreme Court, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, walked toward the Capitol contemplating the "incontrovertible" reality that her party was about to confirm a justice nearer to an election than any confirmation in history.
Murkwoski is a rare moderate Republican who found herself at the center of the debate over Barrett's confirmation when she was one of two senators in her party who moved to delay the vote until after Election Day. She said Monday afternoon that she's fearful of what is becoming of the judiciary and even the Congress in this increasingly partisan era.
"It just seems like we're getting so far afield from what the original promise was," Murkowski said.
I was walking with two friends when we caught Murkowski walking alone toward the Capitol. We are women in our 20s who cover Congress for major television networks. Murkowski's conversation with us lasted nearly half an hour and was candid. She described "restless nights" that led to her decision about how to vote Monday night.
Despite her strong conviction that the person filling the vacancy left by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg should be nominated by the winner of the presidential election, she planned to vote to confirm Barrett to the court. But she said she would do so with growing concern that the court is "becoming more politicized" than it was ever intended to be.
It's a point she said she's been trying to make to her fellow Republicans for several weeks now.
"The executive is inherently political, the legislative is inherently political, but the judiciary is designed to be independent and everything that we do to cause it to appear to be less independent -- to have those overtones of bias -- that erodes public confidence," Murkowski said. "And when we don't have public confidence that justice is going to be delivered equally and equitably to all, that's when we start falling apart."
When the vacancy opened on the Supreme Court, Murkowski and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, were quick to say that the Senate should hold on a confirmation.
"I figured that more would agree," Murkowski said. "Nobody else joined us."
So, she was left with a decision.
"I had to decide if I was going to be consistent with everything that I had done before, and I decided that that is my responsibility as a senator. I might not like where we are. I objected to where we are and how we got here but I lost on that procedural aspect of that and now I had to decide."
Murkowski told us that Barrett is "more conservative" than she is, but that she believes Barrett to be a qualified jurist, based on her answers in her judiciary committee hearings and in a one-on-one conversation with her.
Still, Murkowski said she worries for the fate of the Affordable Care Act, during a time at which Democrats have painted Republicans and Barrett as on a mission to dismantle the health care bill. Murkowski was one of three Republicans to vote to uphold the landmark law.
The Supreme Court will hear a case on the ACA just one week after the election.
"I've got all kinds of reasons why we don't want to turn our backs on the ACA. I am not one who is hoping that the Supreme Court overturns it, absolutely to the contrary," Murkowski said. "But I don't think that the position that I have taken is inconsistent in any way."
Murkowski told us that if she "truly truly believed" that Barrett's confirmation could spell the end of the landmark health care bill it may have swayed her outcome. But, she added, you just do not know what courts will do.
Still, the senator is worried for Barrett, and the perception that people will have of her as a nominee confirmed solely by the Republicans. She'll have an "extraordinarily high burden" to clear, Murkowski said.
Murkowski said she worries about what message it could send to people who are losing faith in the independence of the courts.
"You just think, is this what we have become?" Murkowski asked. "And my worry is that you could have a scenario -- years off -- where your court is just a smaller iteration of a legislative body and that's not what we intended."