Judge Amy Coney Barrett defended her independence and avoided answering direct inquiries on Wednesday during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that appeared unlikely to slow down her path to a Supreme Court confirmation ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election.
Barrett’s hearings entered their third day with a second round of questioning from each of the committee’s 22 senators. Republicans projected confidence that Barrett will have the votes needed to be approved by the committee and the full Senate, and embraced what one called Barrett’s “unashamedly pro-life” personal views.
President Donald Trump nominated Barrett, 48, to succeed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg after the 87-year-old liberal died last month, and has repeatedly pushed for her to be seated in time to address any litigation stemming from the election. Her confirmation would give Trump his third nominee on the high court and deliver a 6-3 majority for conservatives, providing a legal boost to the GOP for the foreseeable future.
Democrats, who have conceded they are probably powerless to stop Barrett from being confirmed, quizzed the judge about voting rights cases, her past statements on the Affordable Care Act and pressed her to acknowledge constitutional limits on Trump’s power.
Liberal senators continued to target an upcoming case on the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear on Nov. 10. While Barrett has repeatedly refused to express an opinion on the case, Democrats believe that focusing on the Trump administration’s efforts to wipe out the law could stir voters.
On Obamacare and other cases, Barrett told the senators she would come to the bench with an open mind, but followed the model set by past nominees by declining to say much else.
When Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., suggested that Barrett would vote in the same way as the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative for whom Barrett clerked early in her career, she fired back that “I assure you I have my own mind.” Barrett had previously publicly identified with Scalia’s judicial ideology.
Barrett’s refusal to delve into specifics continued to frustrate Democrats.
After Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee’s ranking Democrat, asked Barrett whether she agreed with some originalist legal scholars who believed that the Medicare program was unconstitutional, Barrett said she could not respond, citing what she has called the “Ginsburg Rule” of “no hints, no previews, no forecasts.”
“It’s hard for me to believe that that’s a real question. Because I think the Medicare program is really sacrosanct in this country,” Feinstein responded.
Barrett also declined to weigh in on Shelby County v. Holder, a landmark 2013 case that weakened the Voting Rights Act, and an April decision from the Supreme Court that shortened the period allowed for casting absentee ballots in Wisconsin.
“It’s the kind of case that could come up in a closely related form, either on the 7th Circuit, or on the Supreme Court,” Barrett said.
Barrett would not tell Coons whether the 1965 case Griswold v. Connecticut, which protects the right of married couples to purchase contraception, was correctly decided, though she said the question had become largely academic because the precedent was unlikely to be challenged.
Barrett did allow, to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., that she agreed with him that “no one is above the law.” But she refused to say whether Trump had the absolute right to pardon himself, noting that the question “may or may not arise, but it’s one that calls for legal analysis.”
“I find your answers somewhat incompatible,” Leahy told her.
Republicans continued to suggest that Barrett’s precise legal views are unknowable even as they praised her personal commitment to religion and the rule of law.
While Barrett’s strict guarding of her legal views frustrated Democrats, Republicans celebrated her for being open about her background as a Catholic mother of seven.
“You have been candid to this body about who you are and what you believe,” Committee Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham. R-S.C., said in his opening remarks. He said the hearing provided “an opportunity to not punch through a glass ceiling, but a reinforced concrete barrier around conservative women.”
“This is the first time in American history that we’ve nominated a woman who is unashamedly pro-life and embraces her faith without apology,” Graham said.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said that Democrats’ questions suggested they were “treating this hearing as a policy hearing.”
“At times I have been confused and thought we were on the Health Committee, and not the Judiciary Committee,” Cruz said. He said that the focus on upcoming cases rather than Barrett’s qualifications “revealed very good news.”
“Judge Barrett is going to be confirmed by this committee, and by the full Senate,” Cruz said.
The hearings began at 9 a.m. ET and will conclude after all the senators are finished with their questions. Each is allotted 20 minutes.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.