WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is facing senators’ questions Tuesday for the first time over her approach to health care, legal precedent and even the presidential election during confirmation hearings on track to lock in a conservative court majority for years to come.
Barrett, family in tow, is on Capitol Hill for a second day of hearings at the Senate Judiciary Committee. The mood is likely to shift to a more confrontational tone as Barrett, an appellate court judge with very little trial court experience, is grilled in 30-minute segments Tuesday by Democrats gravely opposed to President Donald Trump’s nominee, yet virtually powerless to stop her rise. Republicans are rushing her to confirmation before Election Day.
The chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., gaveled open the session under coronavirus protocols with a focus on health care, and ending the Affordable Care Act.
“Let’s get to it,” he said.
The Senate, led by Trump’s Republican allies, is pushing Barrett’s nomination to a quick vote before Nov. 3, and ahead of the the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act, which the Supreme Court is to hear a week after the election.
Republicans also hope to seat Barrett quickly enough to hear any legal challenges after the election. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut was among several Democrats demanding that Barrett pledge not to take part in any election case. She has made no such commitment.
One of the two Republicans on the panel who tested positive for COVID-19, Sen. Thom Tillis, joined the committee for the first time Tuesday, after ending quarantine.
Barrett presented her approach to the law as conservative and fair on Monday at the start of fast-tracked confirmation hearings. Democrats cast her as a threat to Americans’ health care coverage during the coronavirus pandemic.
With her husband and six of their seven children behind her in a hearing room off-limits to the public and altered for COVID-19 risks, Barrett delivered views at odds with the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the liberal icon whose seat Trump nominated her to fill, laying out a judicial philosophy she has likened to that of her conservative mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
“Courts are not designed to solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life,” declared the 48-year-old federal appeals court judge, removing the protective mask she wore most of the day to read from a prepared statement.
Americans “deserve an independent Supreme Court that interprets our Constitution and laws as they are written,” Barrett told the committee.
Ginsburg’s legacy was felt throughout the hearing, with some Democrats wearing lapel pins with her likeness. Barrett also praised the liberal icon, saying she was “forever grateful” for Ginsburg’s trailblazing path as a woman on the court.
Yet Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s running mate, warned that Barrett’s nomination puts in jeopardy everything Ginsburg fought to protect.
Testifying from her office because of the pandemic, Harris said that the court is “often the last refuge for equal justice” and that not only health care but voting rights, workers’ rights, abortion rights and the very idea of justice are at stake.
Barring a dramatic development, Republicans appear to have the votes to confirm Barrett to a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court, and they spent their time portraying her as a thoughtful judge with impeccable credentials. She would be Trump’s third justice.
“She is a slam dunk” based on her qualifications, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the committee chairman, told reporters late in the day. Barrett received the highest rating — “well-qualified” — from the American Bar Association, though she is the first nominee since Clarence Thomas who did not receive a unanimous assessment.
Underscoring the Republicans’ confidence, Graham set an initial committee vote on the nomination for Thursday, even before the last day of hearings wrapped, which would allow final approval by the panel for one week later and a vote for confirmation by the full Senate on Oct. 26.
One after another, Democrats sought Monday to tie her nomination to the upcoming Obama-era health care case.
Republicans lambasted Democrats for attacking Barrett’s Catholic religion, although none actually did.
Some senators took part remotely, after two committee Republicans, Tillis and Mike Lee of Utah , tested positive for the novel coronavirus 10 days ago. Lee was present in the hearing room, bearing a doctor’s note saying he didn’t need to remain isolated. Tillis returned after taking part remotely, and his spokesman said he also was free of symptoms.
Protesters rallied outside the Senate buildings with the hearing room largely closed to the public.
The start of the four-day hearings followed a White House event announcing her nomination just over two weeks ago, in which most of the audience did not wear masks. The event has been labeled a “superspreader” for the virus.
More than two dozen people linked to the Sept. 26 Rose Garden event, including the two GOP senators, have contracted COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Barrett and her family went maskless at the event. She and her husband, Jesse, tested positive for the virus earlier this year and recovered, administration officials have said.
Democrats already were enraged that Republicans are moving so quickly, having refused to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee after Scalia’s death in February 2016, well before that year’s election.
October 13, 2020
Associated Press writers Matthew Daly and Michael Balsamo in Washington, Elana Schor in New York and Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento, California, contributed to this report.
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