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US Supreme Court back to work, one seat vacant as election looms

By AFP - Oct 05,2020 - Last updated at Oct 05,2020

People with the pro-life organisation Bound4Life stand outside of the US Supreme Court on Monday in Washington, DC (AFP photo)

WASHINGTON — The US Supreme Court resumed work after a fall break on Monday with a key vacancy left by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and rising concerns it could be called on to decide the November 3 presidential election.

The court begins its 2020-2021 season with eight of nine justices, and facing the possibility that COVID-19 could both disrupt Republican plans to quickly fill Ginsburg's slot and cause enough problems with voting that the court is forced to intervene in the election count.

The pandemic is pushing tens of millions of Americans to vote by mail, taxing systems and rules for collection and counting of ballots. 

Both Republican and Democratic parties are already challenging local ballot processing in courts.

As with the historic intervention that gave George W. Bush the presidential victory over Al Gore in the 2000 race, local cases over which ballots are counted could eventually head up the judicial ladder to the Supreme Court.


Hearings for new nominee 


That's one reason why President Donald Trump and Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have rushed to fill the Ginsburg vacancy with Amy Coney Barrett, who would give conservatives a solid six-to-three majority.

A star of the right, Barrett could give Republicans the wherewithal to reverse the federal guarantee of abortion rights, set by the high court in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

She could also tilt the court to rule illegal the 2010 Affordable Care Act, under which Democratic president Barack Obama extended federal health insurance protections to tens of millions of Americans, but which is hated by Republicans. 

The Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold hearings on her nomination on October 12.

After their approval, the nomination would then advance to the entire Senate for approval, where Republicans hold a 53-47 majority, normally assuring confirmation.

But two Republican senators, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, have said they disagree with voting on Barrett's nomination before the election.

In the past four days, three other Republican senators have tested positive for coronavirus, including two, Thom Tillis and Mike Lee, who sit on the Judiciary Committee.

With the infections, McConnell announced on Saturday he was postponing floor action in the Senate for two weeks.

But he said the Judiciary Committee would still meet on Barrett, with some allowed to join by videoconference. 

The court opens its new season with hearings by teleconference on a case involving water rights in Texas and another case on whether a state, Delaware, can choose judges based on their political party affiliation.

On Wednesday, they launch into a major case involving a multi-billion dollar battle between tech giants Google and Oracle over ownership and use of software code.

On November 10, by which time Barrett could be seated, they hear a case challenging the Affordable Care Act.

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