Senate Judiciary sets vote on Barrett, Dems decry ‘sham’
The Senate Judiciary Committee set Oct. 22 for its vote to advance Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court on Thursday as Democrats threw pointed objections but were unable to stop the Republicans’ drive to confirm President Donald Trump’s pick before the Nov. 3 election.
The panel’s action clears a key hurdle to recommend Barrett’s nomination to the full Senate for a final vote by month’s end.
"A sham," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. "Power grab," decried Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. "Not normal," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
"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," declared Sen. Chris Coon, D-Del.
But Republicans countered that Trump is well within bounds as president to fill the court vacancy, and the GOP-held Senate has the votes to push Trump’s nominee to confirmation.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he understands Democrats’ "disappointment, but I think their loss is the American people’s gain."
Barrett’s confirmation to take the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is on track to lock 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.
The committee’s session Thursday was without Barrett after two 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.
Facing almost 20 hours of questions from senators, the 48-year-old judge was careful not to take on the president who nominated her. 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. "It’s not one that I can offer a view," she said in response to a question Wednesday from Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
When it came to major issues that are likely to come before the court, including abortion and health care, Barrett repeatedly promised to keep an open mind and said neither Trump nor anyone else in the White House had tried to influence her views.
"No one has elicited from me any commitment in a case," she said.
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.
She said she was 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.
There was no hiding her views in at least three letters and ads she signed over 15 years and her membership in Notre Dame’s Faculty for Life. So Republican senators embraced her stance, proudly stating that she was, in Graham’s words, an "unashamedly pro-life" conservative who is making history as a role model for other women.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said there "is nothing wrong with confirming a devout pro-life Christian."
Barrett refused to say whether the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade ruling on abortion rights was correctly decided, though she signed an open letter seven years ago that called the decision "infamous."
In an exchange with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Barrett resisted the invitation to explicitly endorse or reject the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s comments about perpetuating "racial entitlement" in a key voting rights case.
"When I said that Justice Scalia’s philosophy is mine, too, I certainly didn’t mean to say that every sentence that came out of Justice Scalia’s mouth or every sentence that he wrote is one that I would agree with," Barrett said.
She 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.
One of the more dramatic moments came late Wednesday when Barrett told California Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, that she wouldn’t say whether racial discrimination in voting still exists nor express a view on climate change.
Harris asked if she agreed with Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote in a 2013 voting rights case that "voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that."
Barrett said she would "not comment on what any justice said in an opinion."
Asked whether "climate change is happening," Barrett said she wouldn’t engage because it is "a very contentious matter of public debate." Barrett did, however, say she believes the novel coronavirus is infectious and that smoking causes cancer.
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.
In 2000, the court’s decision in Bush v. Gore brought a Florida recount to a halt, effectively deciding the election in George W. Bush’s favor. Barrett was on Bush’s legal team in 2000, in a minor role.