Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings concluded on Thursday with the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee pushing ahead to advance the judge’s nomination by scheduling a vote.
This was met with resistance from Senate Democrats who moved to indefinitely delay the proceedings, leading to a heated debate on the committee floor. Democrats have been opposed to Barrett’s nomination before the election, arguing that whoever wins the election should be given the opportunity to select the nominee to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
They have also taken issue over holding the proceedings during the pandemic, its proximity to the elections, and the Republicans’ tight schedule.
“This rushed, sham process is a disservice to our committee,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who introduced the motion, said. “The purpose of doing it is simply to have a justice on the Supreme Court, as the president has said, to decide the election and to strike down the Affordable Care Act.”
He was joined by several of his Democrat colleagues, who criticized President Donald Trump, Barrett’s record, and the Senate Republicans’ process.
“It breaches everything we have held dear and the processes we have moved forward with. I very much hope this does not happen. There is no need for it. It will create a lot of bad will that does not need to be created,” Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said, suggesting that it violates committee norms.
The motion was ultimately defeated after causing about a two-hour delay in the hearing in which two representatives of the American Bar Association (ABA) and eight witnesses, invited by both parties, testified on Barrett’s character, qualifications, and record. Barrett was not in attendance at Thursday’s hearing.
“The standing committee concluded that Judge Barrett’s integrity, judicial temperament, and professional competence met the very high standards for appointment to our Supreme Court,” Randall D. Noel, the chair of the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, said. “Our rating of ‘well qualified’ reflects the consensus of her peers that know her best.”
Pamela J. Roberts, the lead evaluator of Barrett’s nomination, told lawmakers that judges and lawyers had “uniformly extolled” Barrett’s “integrity and outstanding character.”
Among the witnesses was Laura Wolk, the first blind woman to serve as a clerk on the Supreme Court, who told an evocative story about the time when she was a law student of then-Professor Barrett, who helped her procure assistive technology for class.
“This is no longer your problem. It’s my problem,” Wolk recounted Barrett telling her after she relayed her technology problem to the professor. “This encounter was the first in which Judge Barrett demonstrated the depth of her generous spirit, but it was far from the last.”
Laura Wolk speaks during the fourth day of Senate Judiciary Committee on the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, on Capitol Hill in Washington on Oct. 15, 2020. With less than a month until the presidential election, President Donald Trump tapped Amy Coney Barrett to be his third Supreme Court nominee in just four years. If confirmed, Barrett would replace the late Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images)
Dr. Farhan Bhatti, a family doctor, spoke about the impact of striking down the ACA on his patients and Americans during the hearing.
“I’m here to urge against striking down this life-saving law, or confirming to the Supreme Court anyone who would seek to do so,” Bhatti, who was invited by Senate Democrats, said. “I share the concern that any judge who opposes the ACA endangers a lifeline that my patients count on to stay healthy and in many cases to stay alive.”
These concerns were emblematic of the issues raised by Democrats throughout the hearing. Democrats have expressed concern that the Supreme Court could strike down former President Barrack Obama’s health care law in a pending case, which is scheduled for oral arguments at the Supreme Court on Nov. 10.
They have sought to tie Barrett to Obamacare as she could be confirmed in time to join the Supreme Court to hear the case. They have been making the case that the judge, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, would not hesitate to overturn the law. However, Barrett has repeatedly expressed in the hearing that she has no animus or hostility toward the ACA.
“I want to stress I have no animus to or agenda for the Affordable Care Act,” she told one of the senators on Wednesday.
Throughout the hearing, Barrett asserted her judicial independence and impartiality as a judge.
At one point during the hearings, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) suggested that Barrett would vote the same way as Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom she clerked for more than a decade. In her speech to accept the nomination in September, Barrett said Scalia’s “judicial philosophy is mine, too.”
Barrett pushed back and asserted her independence as a judge.
“I hope that you aren’t suggesting that I don’t have my own mind or that I couldn’t think independently or that I would just decide, ‘Let me see what Justice Scalia has said about this in the past,’ because I assure you, I have my own mind,” Barrett said.
“But everything that he said is not necessarily what I would agree with or what I would do if I were Justice Barrett.”
Judge Amy Coney Barrett testifies during the third day of her Senate confirmation hearing to the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington on Oct. 14, 2020. (Michael Reynolds/Pool via Reuters)
She also told senators that she had no conversations with President Donald Trump or anyone about the ACA or potential 2020 presidential election disputes.
Barrett was quizzed about her view on voting rights, Medicare, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), climate change, immigration, among other social issues. Some senators sought to press the judge into acknowledging constitutional limits on presidential power.
The judge, who exercised prudence during both rounds of questioning, repeatedly invoked the standard that judges shouldn’t offer their opinion on cases, hypotheticals, or “grade” precedents, and should avoid expressing their views on issues that might come before the courts.
Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) ended the hearing expressing appreciation to all the senators and staff involved. He ended his remarks with high praise for Barrett.
“Judge Barrett, I have had an opportunity to witness several people apply for the job of being a Supreme Court justice. I have never met a more amazing human being in my life. Not just from the professor [who she] helped, the struggling young blind student, and everybody else she’s helped, but just your knowledge of the law, your disposition, your character, your ABA rating I think is well-earned,” Graham said. The ABA had rated Barrett with its top rating of “well qualified” for the role.
Following the hearing, Blumenthal told reporters that Democrats would continue their fight to block Barrett’s nomination until the very end.
The vote to approve Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court has been scheduled for 1 p.m. on Oct. 22. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) indicated that the full Senate will begin considering Barrett’s nomination on Oct. 23 “and stay on it until we finish this.”
“We have the votes,” he said.