Key Takeaways from the Amy Coney Barrett Hearings So Far

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Hearings continue on Wednesday for the third consecutive day over the appointment of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court.  Here are some key takeaways from the hearings so far.

Barrett Evasive on Hypotheticals

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have used the hearings to try to define Barrett and how she would rule as a Supreme Court justice. As such, senators evoked several major issues that the Democratic base fear a Barrett appointment could jeopardize. Among them, national marriage equality, abortion rights and the preservation of the Affordable Care Act. This final issue, in particular, will appear before the nation’s highest court days after the November 3rd election. It could potentially gut President Obama’s landmark healthcare law, stripping millions of their coverage.

But despite specific questions about how she would consider any of these issues, Barrett maintained that it is inappropriate to entertain hypotheticals. At one point, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee’s ranking Democrat, asked Barrett about her views on Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The 1992 case upheld a woman’s right to choose in accordance with 1973’s Roe v. Wade. But Barrett maintained that she could only consider cases as they were presented to her in real life.

“I don’t have any agenda,” Barrett said. “I have an agenda to stick to the rule of law and decide cases as they come.” Additionally, Barrett invoked the late Justice Antonin Scalia, her former mentor, whose conservative legal philosophy she says she embraces. In that spirit, she insisted she would “obey all the rules of stare decisis,” referring to a legal principle that respects past Court decisions.

Democrats Highlight the Stakes

Ever since the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg four weeks ago, Democrats have demanded that the Senate delay any consideration of a replacement until after the November 3rd election. But their calls to postpone the nomination did not stop President Trump from nominating Judge Barrett, or Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to schedule the confirmation hearings.

Unable to stop the hearings, Democrats have embraced the tactic of illustrating the stakes for everyday Americans of a potential Barrett appointment. In her half-hour questioning allotment, California Sen. Kamala Harris, who is the Democratic nominee for vice president, delivered a history of the Affordable Care Act, and of Republican efforts to hobble it. She then discussed the millions of Americans who could lose their health coverage, amid a pandemic no less, if a conservative-leaning Supreme Court overturns the law.

Moreover, several Democrats tried to draw a line between Trump’s previous statements about how he would choose a Supreme Court nominee, and Barrett’s reticence on certain issues. Harris and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar both pointed to a 2015 tweet by Trump that stated:

If I win the presidency, my judicial appointments will do the right thing unlike Bush’s appointee John Roberts on ObamaCare.

Additionally, Harris brought up an article that Barrett wrote in January of 2017 wherein the latter criticized the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold key aspects of the ACA. Harris then asked Barrett how much time had passed between the publication of the article, and her appointment to the Court of Appeals. The Senator answered for her: five months.

Composure

Despite the impassioned defenses and arguments against Judge Barrett, the participants of the hearings have generally maintained professional composure, a rarity in the current political era. Only two years ago, the confirmation hearings of now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh caused massive protests and hours of personal attack against the judge for his alleged mistreatment of women in the past. And only a few weeks ago, the presidential debate between Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden quickly melted into a shouting match of personal attacks and belittlement.

In contrast, Judge Barrett, who has spent most of her career as a Notre Dame law professor, has shown due deference to the interrogative panel. At the same time, Democrats and Republicans alike have seized the opportunity to deliver competing messages to the American people about the future of the country, with an undoubted eye on the impending election. And while Barrett has stated that she is “not a pawn” for President Trump, the hearings themselves may well prove to be more a symbolic forum on politics than a procedural consideration of the candidate’s qualifications. After all, Democratic efforts to paint Barrett as an executor of Republican policy will have little effect on the inevitable: Republicans already have the votes to confirm Barrett.  

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