PHOTO CREDITS: ALEX EDELMAN/POOL/AFP
The first four days of Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings began Monday, October 13, with day one featuring opening statements from the 22 senators – 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats – on the Senate Judiciary committee.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, meeting on a federal holiday, kicked off four days of statements and testimony in an environment that has been altered by the coronavirus pandemic. Some senators were taking part remotely, and the hearing room itself was arranged with health concerns in mind. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), opened the hearing acknowledging “the COVID problem in America is real.” But he said, “We do have a country that needs to move forward safely.” Graham acknowledged the obvious: “This is going to be a long, contentious week.”
On Monday, Barrett spoke about her judicial philosophy, her experience and her large family at the end of the first day of her fast-tracked confirmation hearings. After sitting in silence through nearly four hours of opening statements from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the 48-year-old federal appeals court judge laid out her approach to the bench, which she has likened to that of her conservative mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
“Courts have a vital responsibility to the rule of rule of law, which is critical to a free society. But courts are not designed to solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life,” Barrett said in a statement. “The policy decisions and value judgments of government must be made by the political branches elected by and accountable to the people. The public should not expect courts to do so, and courts should not try.” She told senators that she is “forever grateful” for Ginsburg’s trailblazing path as a woman on the court.
The timeline for nominee Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court has been set forth. Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s hearings will begin with a Q&A period. On Thursday, the final day, outside witnesses are expected to testify for and against Barrett’s nomination. Under committee rules, Democrats can postpone the nomination for one week, and they have made clear they will employ every tool at their disposal to do so – plus “certain creative tactics that rely upon the element of surprise,” wrote Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). The committee is expected to vote on Oct. 22. From there, McConnell will decide how quickly to move the nomination to the Senate floor.
Sen. Kamala Harris, the running mate of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, said the court is “often the last refuge for equal justice” and Barrett’s nomination puts in jeopardy everything Ginsburg fought to protect. Testifying from her office because of the pandemic, Harris said that not only health care but voting rights, workers’ rights, abortion and the very idea of justice are at stake.
Republicans called Barrett a thoughtful judge with impeccable credentials. Barring a dramatic development, Republicans appear to have the votes to confirm her to a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court. If she is confirmed quickly, she could be on the court when it hears the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act, a week after the election. Democrats have sought to tie her nomination to the upcoming court case.
“Health care coverage for millions of Americans is at stake with this nomination,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee’s senior Democrat. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said the nomination is a “judicial torpedo aimed” at the law’s protection for people with pre-existing health conditions among its provisions. The Trump administration wants the court to strike down the entire law popularly known as “Obamacare” on Nov. 10. Barrett has criticized the court’s two earlier major rulings supporting the law. Among Republicans, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, dismissed warnings Barrett will undo the Obama-era healthcare law as “outrageous.” Trump tweeted out several times about the hearing. In one message, he tweeted that he’d have a “FAR BETTER” health care plan, with lower costs and protections for pre-existing conditions.
Republicans also warned against making Barrett’s Catholicism an issue in the confirmation debate, especially in regard to her stance on abortion, with Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri lambasting what he called a “pattern and practice of religious bigotry” by Democrats. However, Democratic senators made clear in advance of the hearing that they didn’t plan to question the judge on the specifics of her religious faith. Barrett’s religious views and past leadership role in a Catholic faith community pose a challenge for Democrats as they try to probe her judicial approach to abortion, gay marriage, and other social issues without veering into inappropriate questions of her faith.
Protesters rallied outside the Senate buildings with the hearing room largely closed to the public. Capitol Police said 22 people were arrested and charged on suspicion of crowding, obstructing or other violations (PBS).
ARTICLE: CARSON CHOATE, POLITICS EDITOR