Special DC update: The Barrett confirmation hearings

By: - October 14, 2020 6:00 am
Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett

Republicans, including Tillis, endorse controversial nomination while Democrats express deep concerns

Day Two of the extraordinary U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett stretched into the evening hours yesterday, but the event generated few surprises and little new information as the nominee avoided taking controversial stances.

Barrett, 48, a judge on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals who was tapped by President Trump to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Sept. 18, won universal acclaim from Republicans as an outstanding selection. Democrats, conversely, raised red flags about both Barrett’s judicial philosophy and the timing of the confirmation process, just weeks prior to a presidential election.

Former Judiciary Committee chair, Republican Charles Grassley of Iowa offered strong support for the nominee. In his opening remarks Monday and again at the beginning of his period for questions Tuesday, Grassley criticized Democrats for what he described as “baseless claims and scare tactics” regarding Barrett’s views as a devout Catholic, as well as the potential effect her confirmation could have on the fate of the Affordable Care Act.

Grassley said Barrett should do as Ginsburg did in her confirmation hearing, and offer “no forecasts, no hints” on how she would vote on a particular case. He quoted Barrett herself saying that judges must apply the law as written, “setting aside any policy views they might hold.”

“You’ve got a lifetime appointment,” Grassley said. “If you do law-making, people can’t vote you out of office. Law-making is our job.”

In sharp contrast to Grassley, California Senator and Democratic nominee for Vice President Kamala Harris expressed deep concerns about what Barrett’s confirmation to the high court could mean for the future of the controversial health care law sometimes referred to as “Obamacare.”.

According to CNN, Harris, who appeared at the hearing virtually last evening, questioned Barrett about a 2017 article she authored in which she criticized Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion upholding the law as constitutional.

“In other words, the Affordable Care Act and all its protections hinge on this seat and the outcome of this hearing. And I believe it’s very important the American people understand the issues at stake, and what’s at play,” Harris said.

The future of abortion rights

Like many other Democrats on the committee, Sen. Amy Klobuchar pressed Barrett on the future of the Court’s near-half-century-old ruling in the case of Roe v. Wade that established a woman’s constitutional right to obtain an abortion.

Klobuchar asked Barrett why she doesn’t classify the landmark case as “super precedent,” meaning it would never be overturned.

Barrett told the Minnesota lawmaker and former presidential candidate that scholars have noted that even though Roe isn’t considered a “super precedent” case, “that doesn’t mean it should be overruled.”

Barrett has not directly commented during the hearings on her personal views on abortion, but the Guardian newspaper found she signed her name in support of a 2006 newspaper ad sponsored by an anti-abortion group. Barrett is considered a favorite among conservatives and that has raised concerns with Democrats who fear she could roll back Roe.

If she’s confirmed, she would shift the court considerably to the right with six conservative judges and three liberal judges.

Klobuchar pulled up an article that Barrett wrote in 2013 for a Texas law review journal about “super precedent” cases such as Brown v. Board of Education that ruled school segregation unconstitutional. She then asked Barrett if she considered Roe v. Wade to be “super precedent.”

“People use ‘super precedent’ differently,” Barrett said. “The way that it’s used in the scholarship and the way that I was using it in the article that you’re reading from was to define cases that are so well settled that no political actors and no people seriously push for their overruling, and I’m answering a lot of questions about Roe, which I think indicates that Roe doesn’t fall in that category.”

Barrett said that while not everyone agrees with the outcome of Roe, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it would be overturned.

“I am then left with looking at the tracks of your record and where it leads the American people,” Klobuchar said. “And I think it leads us to a place that’s gonna have severe repercussions for them.”

Tillis returns to U.S. Capitol, doctor’s note in hand

Sen. Thom Tillis

Wielding a doctor’s note clearing him to return to work, North Carolina’s Sen. Thom Tillis rejoined the nomination hearing in person on Tuesday.

Tillis had announced on Oct. 2 that he had tested positive for COVID-19, and the first term Republican participated virtually in the opening day of the committee hearings.

Tillis wore a face mask when he entered the hearing room Tuesday morning, according to pool reports from journalists in the room. When his turn came in his initial round of questions to Barrett, Tillis — like other senators — spoke without the face covering.

Tillis used 10 minutes of the 30 he was allotted, first defending Barrett against critiques from Democrats over the 2006 anti-abortion newspaper ad. Tillis later criticized both the Affordable Care Act and how Democrats have emphasized it throughout the hearings.

“They’re asking you to basically legislate. I don’t want you to do that,” Tillis said, adding that it’s up to the Senate, not the Court, to ensure health care laws work.

Tillis asked Barrett only a few direct questions. He asked about her experience working as a clerk for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, and the discussions in Scalia’s chambers between him and his law clerks, in which the conservative jurist would be presented with a range of viewpoints on each case.

Tillis’ turn questioning the Supreme Court nominee came late in the afternoon, hours into the second in what’s expected to be a four-day process in the Judiciary panel.

Tillis, who is in a tough re-election race this fall, was a swift supporter of Barrett, and vowed even before her nomination that he would vote for whomever Trump tapped for the court.

During his opening remarks, Tillis praised Barrett’s legal credentials and described her as an inspiration to young lawyers.

“I have complete confidence in your integrity, ” Tillis said, adding that he thinks she would be “a great justice.”

The question-and-answer portion of Barrett’s hearing is expected to continue through Wednesday, with each senator getting additional opportunities to ask questions.

Laura Olson covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom, a network of nonprofit outlets that includes NC Policy Watch. States Newsroom reporter Ariana Figueroa and Policy Watch director Rob Schofield contributed to this report.

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Laura Olson

Laura Olson covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections, and campaign finance. [email protected]