Day 3 of Supreme Court confirmation hearings: Amy Coney Barrett returns for final round of questioning

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WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett faced a final round of questioning from the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday before a scheduled vote on her confirmation Thursday.

Wednesday’s hearing, which marks the third of the process’ four days, provided an opportunity for senators to dig deeper a day after they probed the judge on her stances on issues ranging from health care and abortion rights to gay marriage and election disputes.

Senators were each given 30 minutes to question Barrett on her views and legal history. The question-and-answer portion wrapped up Wednesday.

In an opening statement on Wednesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, started the hearing running through Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s qualifications and ability to decide the law.

“I’m highly confident that you will judge every American based on their case, not the law of Amy,” said Graham. “This hearing to me is an opportunity to not punch through a glass ceiling but a reinforced concrete barrier around conservative women, you are going to shatter that barrier.”

Graham said Trump had made history by nominating someone “who is unashamedly pro-life and embraces her faith without apology.” But Graham said, as Barrett has, that she’d be able to set her personal views aside when deciding cases on abortion.

Cameras in courtroom

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett says she’ll “certainly keep an open mind” on allowing cameras to broadcast proceedings of the high court. Allowing cameras into the chamber would be a first in the Supreme Court’s 230-year history.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-IA, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, have asked all recent nominees to the court whether they would favor live or same-day broadcasts of arguments.

The court has been providing live audio of arguments, held by telephone, since May due to the coronavirus pandemic — the first time it has done so. Grassley and Leahy are longtime members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and introduced legislation earlier this year to continue the practice.

While questioning Barrett on Wednesday, Sen. Grassley joked it probably wouldn’t happen in his lifetime.

“Many of us believe that allowing cameras in the courtroom would open the courts to the public and bring a better understanding of the judiciary,” Grassley said.

Sen. Leahy also urged Barrett to consider it during his round of questioning.

Affordable Care Act

During the confirmation hearings, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, says there’s an “orange cloud” hanging over the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

Durbin says that Trump has made clear he wishes to undo the Affordable Care Act and that those wishes are also a cloud over Barrett’s nomination.

Barrett has said she is not “hostile” to the Affordable Care Act and has promised to hear all arguments.

“If I were on the court, and if a case involving the ACA came before me, I would approach it with an open mind,” Barrett told Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX.

Election – Voting rights

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett won’t say whether a president can pardon himself but says she agrees no one is above the law.

Under questioning Wednesday from Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, Barrett offered no view on the pardon issue. Multiple investigations are looking into Trump’s taxes, his businesses and his associates.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., asked what she thinks of Trump’s view that he can pardon himself.

Barrett said a president’s ability to pardon himself has never been tested in court and the question calls out for “legal analysis.” She said, “It’s not one that I can offer a view.”

Barrett did agree with Leahy’s assertion that “no one is above the law.”

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, probed if her strict adherence to originalism means a president could not “unilaterally deny the right to vote” based on race, noting restrictions on mail-in ballots being erected in several states before Nov. 3.

She agreed there are “many laws” that protect the right to vote, including the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, but refrained from saying more than, “I really can’t say anything more.”

The judge was being asked about several of the late conservative Justice Scalia’s decisions. Barrett did not respond directly to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who asked whether Barrett agreed with Scalia’s view that the civil rights era Voting Rights Act was a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” Barrett said Scalia’s approach — “originalism and texturalism” — is hers as well. But without discussing the specifics of that case, she called the Voting Rights Act a “triumph in the civil rights movement.”

Barrett testified she has not spoken to Trump or his team about election cases, and declined to commit to recusing herself from any post-election cases.

She did describe what the role of the court would be if it were asked to intervene. “Certainly the court would not see itself — and would not be — electing the president. It would be applying laws that are designed to protect the election and protect the right to vote,” Barrett said.

Immigration

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett would not say that the Trump administration’s practice of separating children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border was wrong.

Barrett was being questioned by Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, about the practice during her confirmation hearing Wednesday. She said she could not be drawn into a debate about the Trump administration’s immigration policy.

The Trump administration separated more than 2,500 children from their parents at the border during the spring and summer of 2018. The administration is still in court over the policy.


Day 3 summary

For a third straight day, Judge Amy Coney Barrett took questions about her judicial record, her writings as an academic, and her philosophy on key issues. Senate Democrats once again pressed Barrett on whether she’d become the crucial vote to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

“My question was did you ever write or speak out in defense of the ACA…that’s a pretty simple yes or no question,” said Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont during his questioning period. Judge Barrett responded that she hadn’t had the occasion to show support for the statute.

Leahy and many other Democrats say they believe Barrett’s confirmation is a likely foregone conclusion. Some say they’re using the remainder of the hearings to message directly to the American public.

“I think the past couple of days in committee have helped the American people understand what the stakes are,” said Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.  He says Democrats have clarified to the voting public what a Barrett confirmation would signify. “…to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, to get rid of Roe vs. Wade, and to get rid of Obergefel, the gay marriage decision,” said Whitehouse, “those are the stated purposes, but I don’t think America knew that going in.”

“This hearing has been more about Obamacare than it has you,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina.

Graham, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, argued the ACA is deeply flawed. He also said Democrats are wrong to assume Barrett would favor striking down the whole healthcare law, even if part of it were found unconstitutional.

“If you can preserve a statute, you try to, to the extent possible?” asked Graham.

“That is true,” said Barrett.

“Okay, that’s the law folks,” Graham said.

Some Democrats, including Senator and Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris, also questioned Barrett on whether she thought voter suppression, particularly among minority voters, was a real problem.

“Chief Justice Roberts, who said voting discrimination still exists. No one doubts that. Do you agree with that statement?” said Harris.

“Senator Harris I will not comment on what any justice said or…endorse that proposition,” said Barrett.

“Do you call it a proposition or a fact?” asked Harris.

“Senator I’m not going to make a comment.” Said Barrett.

Harris also said the hearings lack legitimacy because Republicans have rushed Barrett’s confirmation. Some Republicans pushed back, saying Democrats have focused on issues like health care because they cannot attack Judge Barrett’s record.

“We’ve got some colleagues on the other side of the aisle who want to seem to focus on statements made in your personal capacity,” said Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah. “I have a hunch that this is because your record on the seventh circuit actually shows you’re able to set aside your personal convictions.”

“Now they have to attribute to you the worst readings and most draconian misinterpretations of Justice Scalia,” said Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri.

Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee says Democrats have made the hearings personal.

“Our friends across the dais have really tried to paint you as a monster with an agenda,” said Blackburn, who argued Democrats focus on the ACA has been misguided. She called assumptions about Judge Barrett sad. “They have chosen intellectual isolation as opposed to having diversity bring a different perspective.”


As Democrats grilled President Donald Trump’s choice to fill the vacant seat left by late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Tuesday, Barrett said she would bring no personal agenda to the court.

She told the Senate committee that she hasn’t given any commitments to the White House on how she would rule on the Affordable Care Act or election-related cases. Barrett also declined to comment on whether she believed landmark rulings legalizing abortion and gay marriage were properly decided.

“I am not here on a mission to destroy the Affordable Care Act,” Barrett said. “I’m just here to apply the law and adhere to the rule of law.”

Sen. Kamala Harris, the running mate of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, said Americans were fearful that the health care law would be overturned in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. A case on the matter is scheduled for days after the November presidential election.

“Republicans are scrambling to confirm this nominee as fast as possible because they need one more Trump judge on the bench before Nov. 10 to win and strike down the entire Affordable Care Act,” the California senator said.

The law, signed by former President Barack Obama, has enabled millions of Americans to obtain medical coverage.

Barrett also faced questioning over whether she would vote to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion in the U.S.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the panel, asked Barrett whether she agreed with her mentor, the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and should be overturned.

Barrett would not say whether she agreed with Scalia that the 2015 Supreme Court Obergefell v. Hodges ruling legalizing gay marriage nationwide was wrongly decided. 

“It’s distressing not to get a good answer,” Feinstein said.

Barrett said she could set aside her religious beliefs in making judicial decisions.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham has scheduled an initial committee vote on the nomination for Thursday morning. The hearings that day will include outside witnesses who are expected to make their case for and against.

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