Judge Amy Coney Barrett remained tight-lipped on how she would rule in politically-charged Supreme Court cases in early questioning during her confirmation hearings on Tuesday morning, citing judicial precedence.
Barrett is President Donald Trump's third Supreme Court nominee, and Trump has said that he would only nominate judges that would roll back abortion rights and end the public health care system set up by the Affordable Care Act. And while her judicial history indicates that Barrett fits those qualifications, she continually avoided answering specific qualifications about looming Supreme Court cases.
Barrett was asked her views on several politically-charged topics which the Supreme Court could potentially influence, including:
When asked by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, if she would recuse herself should the upcoming election spark a Supreme Court decision, Barrett clarified that she had not made a "commitment to anyone...on how she would decide a case."
Barrett later said she would consider the legal requirements of recusal from the eight other Supreme Court judges should the election spark a case.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, asked Barrett specifically about President Donald Trump's call to have "poll watchers" observe voters ahead of election day and check for fraud — an action that legal experts worry could suppress turnout.
When asked if it would be illegal for those "poll watchers" to "intimidate" voters, Barrett said she would not comment on hypothetical cases.
When asked repeatedly by Feinstein if she agrees with Justice Antonin Scalia if Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and that it "can and should be overruled," Barrett attempted to sidestep the answer.
"If I express a view on a precedent one way or another, whether I say 'I love it or I hate it,' it signals to litigants that I might tilt one way or another in a given case," she said.
She later clarified that she does not have an "agenda." She added that her agenda is to "stick to the rule of law."
The Affordable Care Act
Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham asked Barrett directly if she would recuse herself from any Affordable Care Act cases, given Trump's call to dismantle the law and her past writings critical on Supreme Court decisions upholding the law. Barrett said she would follow typical recusal procedures should she be asked by the other justices.
Later, Feinstein asked Barrett if she had any "thoughts" on an upcoming ACA case, California v. Texas. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on that case on Nov. 10.
Barrett said she would not share any thoughts on the case.
Finally, Barrett told Sen. Chuck Grassley that she had not been directed by any politicians to strike down the law.
Barrett was asked directly by Feinstein how she would rule in the event a case regarding gun control came before the court. She said she would "look carefully at text, look...applying law as I best determine it."
Feinstein also asked Barrett how she would rule in cases regarding LGBTQ+ rights. During the questioning, Barrett said she found both "racism" and "discrimination on sexual preference" to be "abhorrent."
According to GLAAD, the term "sexual preference" implies that a person's sexuality is a "choice," meaning it can be cured. The organization prefers the term "sexual orientation."
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, spent a large amount of his time comparing recent Supreme Court decisions on voting rights to decisions on the Second Amendment, noting that some felons in America retain the right to a firearm but lose their right to vote.
Durbin related that anecdote to rulings Barrett has made regarding a felon's right to firearms. Barrett accused Durbin of taking her ruling out of context. She later added that she does not have an "agenda" when it comes to certain cases, though Durbin argued that all judges are shaped by their own values and experiences.
Questioning took place in a marathon-length session on Tuesday, with all 22 members on Senate Judiciary Committee being granted the opportunity to question Barrett for 30 minutes at a time. Members will get an additional 20 minutes of questioning on Wednesday.
On Monday, lawmakers were each granted 10 minutes to deliver an opening statement, all of which fell along party lines.
Democrats said Barrett's nomination would threaten healthcare for millions of Americans, citing past criticisms of previous Supreme Court rulings that upheld the Affordable Care Act that Barrett has published. They also argued that Republicans were "rushing" Barrett's nomination ahead of election day to, as Sen. Kamala Harris put it, "bypass the will of the American people."
Many Democrats took issue with hearings even being held amid a pandemic, claiming Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham had taken lax measures to not require lawmakers to be tested and lambasting Republicans for putting Capitol Building staff at risk. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-NC, who was recently isolated due to the coronavirus, submitted a letter to Graham from his doctor claiming he was following CDC guidelines.
They also argued that their time would be better spent working on stimulus legislation.
Most Republicans used the time to champion Barrett's character as a working mother of nine children and argue that it was their Constitutional duty to fill the open seat because they control both the Senate and the White House.
Following the committee members' opening statements, Barrett delivered her own statement, in which she paid homage to her mentors and Conservative icon, Justice Antonin Scalia, and to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, saying she was "forever grateful for the path she marked and the life she led."
Graham has said he hopes to have confirmation hearings completely wrapped up by Thursday. He added that Republicans are on track to wrap up the process by the end of the month —just a week before election day.