The Senate’s judiciary committee convened on Thursday and set an Oct. 22 vote on Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination as Republicans race to confirm U.S. President Donald Trump’s pick before the Nov. 3 election.
The session is without Barrett after three long days of public testimony in which she stressed that she would be her own judge and sought to create distance between herself and past positions critical of abortion, the Affordable Care Act and other issues.
Her confirmation to take the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg seems inevitable, as even some Senate Democrats acknowledged.
Sen. Lindsey Graham pushed past Democratic objections to set the panel’s Oct. 22 vote on recommending her confirmation even before final witnesses testify before and against her nomination.
“This is a sham,” said Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, arguing the process of filling the seat should wait until the election winner is decided.
Democratic Sen. Chris Coon of Delaware said, “You don’t convene a Supreme Court confirmation hearing in the middle of a pandemic when the Senate’s on recess, when voting has already started in the presidential election in a majority of states.”
But Republicans countered that Trump is well within bounds as president to fill the court vacancy.
Texas Republican John Cornyn said he understood Democrats’ “disappointment, but I think their loss is the American people’s gain.”
Lawyers, medical professionals testify
In the minority, Democrats acknowledged there is little they can do to stop Republicans from locking a conservative majority on the court for years to come. The shift would cement a 6-3 conservative majority on the court and would be the most pronounced ideological change in 30 years, from the liberal icon to the conservative appeals court judge.
On Thursday, outside witnesses testified on Barrett’s candidacy, including representatives of the American Bar Association’s standing committee, which gave the judge its highest “well qualified” rating — but not unanimously. Barrett is the first high court nominee since Justice Clarence Thomas not to earn a unanimous rating.
Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights Under Law opposing Barrett’s nomination, said the judge’s unwillingness to speak forcefully for the Voting Rights Act should “sound an alarm” for Americans with a case heading to the high court.
“Our nation deserves a justice who is committed to preserving the hard-earned rights of all Americans, particularly the most vulnerable,” Clarke said.
Retired appellate court Judge Thomas Griffith assured Barrett is among justices who “can and do put aside party and politics.”
Lawyer Laura Wolk, who last year became the first blind woman to clerk at the Supreme Court, for Thomas, said Barrett was an essential mentor when she was struggling in her studies at Notre Dame University.
“This woman with so many commitments and pressures on her time nevertheless freely volunteered herself to minister to my emotional needs and offered practical and creative solutions to the very real accessibility obstacles I was facing,” Wolk said.
Among those testifying was Michigan primary care doctor Farhan Batti who warned of the toll on his patients if the Supreme Court does away with the health care law and Crystal Good, a writer from West Virginia, who told the very personal story of seeking an abortion as a sexually abused teenager.
“Hear us when we ask you not to approve this nomination,” she implored the senators.
Barrett unwilling to tip her hand
Facing almost 20 hours of questions from senators, Barrett this week was careful not to take on the president who nominated her and sought to separate herself from writings on controversial subjects when she was an academic. She skipped past Democrats’ pressing questions about ensuring the date of next month’s election or preventing voter intimidation, both set in federal law, and the peaceful transfer of presidential power.
She also refused to express her view on whether the president can pardon himself.
Nominees typically resist offering any more information than they have to, especially when the president’s party controls the Senate as it does now. But Barrett wouldn’t engage on topics that seemed easy to swat away, including that only Congress can change the date that the election takes place.
WATCH l Barrett asked about the justice she would be replacing:
Barrett said she is not on a “mission to destroy the Affordable Care Act,” though she has been critical of the two Supreme Court decisions that preserved key parts of the Obama-era health care law. She could be on the court when it hears the latest Republican-led challenge on Nov. 10.
Barrett is the most open opponent of abortion nominated to the Supreme Court in decades, and Democrats fear that her ascension could be a tipping point that threatens abortion rights.
Barrett refused to say whether the 1973 landmark Roe vs. Wade ruling on abortion rights was correctly decided, though she signed an open letter seven years ago that called the decision “infamous.”
WATCH l Barrett tight-lipped about landmark civil rights legislation:
In an exchange with California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the panel, Barrett called the Voting Rights Act a “triumph in the civil rights movement,” without discussing the specifics of the earlier challenge to it. The court will hear another challenge to the law early next year.
Along with trying to undo the health care law, Trump has publicly stated he wants a justice seated for any disputes arising from the election and particularly, the surge of mail-in ballots expected during the pandemic as voters prefer to vote by mail.
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.
The committee vote is set for the same day as Trump and Biden are scheduled to debate in Nashville.