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On Wednesday, President Trump’s US Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett headed into her third day of hearings in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Monday had been her opportunity to give a statement, accompanied by testimony from Senators Todd Young and Michael Braun, both Republicans, and Patricia O’Hara, a former Notre Dame Law School professor speaking to her qualifications and suitability as a potential Supreme Court judge. 

In her statement she praised the late Antonin Scalia, whom she clerked for after law school, explaining how he shaped not only her philosophies about the law, but also about family. 

Justice Scalia taught me more than just law. He was devoted to his family, resolute in his beliefs, and fearless of criticism.” She continued, “As I embarked on my own legal career, I resolved to maintain that same perspective. There is a tendency in our profession to treat the practice of law as all-consuming while losing sight of everything else. But that makes for a shallow and unfulfilling life.

She then paid tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She said, “When I was 21 years old and just beginning my career, Ruth Bader Ginsburg sat in this seat, and referencing the woman’s right movement, told the Committee: ‘What has become of me could only happen in America.’” Amy said, “I have been nominated to fill Justice Ginsburg’s seat, but no one will ever take her place. I will be forever grateful for the path she marked and the life she led. 

Photo by: Meredith Santucci

She alluded to how she uses her children as a test when deciding cases, asking herself how she would view the decision if one of her children were the party she was ruling against. “Even though I would not like the result, would I understand that the decision was fairly reasoned and grounded in the law? To end, Amy said that as a Catholic, she says she believes in the ‘power of prayer’, and she thanked those who sent messages of support. 

Days 2 and 3 of the hearings took place on Tuesday and Wednesday giving Senators the opportunity to question the Judge, and assess her suitability for the open seat.  Democrats were inflamed at Republicans moving so quickly after they kept open Scalia’s seat in 2016, not giving a hearing to Judge Merrick Garland who Barack Obama nominated. The Senate and White House were held by different parties at that time.  

Democrat supporting groups urged Democrats to make a strong case against what they call an illegitimate confirmation so close to the election, and Senators echoed this sentiment strongly.  Protesters gathered in the Capital dressed as Handmaidens from the Margaret Atwood novel too. They link these oppressed women to Amy’s faith group and conservative views on abortion which they oppose.   

During questioning for her 2017 appointment to the 7th circuit court, Democrats drilled down on Amy’s faith and tried to ascertain whether it would influence her judicial opinions. This time, they focused on issues like Obamacare as arguments for a Supreme Court case on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) start November 10th. Gun control, voting rights, the president’s pardon power, and abortion, through which they believe she would push the court further to the right were the subject of questions too.  

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), pointed to a dissenting opinion Barrett wrote last year in favor of allowing people convicted of nonviolent crimes to own guns. Federal law currently has a blanket prohibition on gun ownership by convicted felons. Blumenthal accused her of being “extreme on this issue.” 

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) pressed Amy about the Trump administration’s position to throw out the entire Affordable Care Act and what she knew of Trump’s positions on it when she wrote an opinion to criticize it: “To the extent you’re suggesting this was like an open letter to President Trump, it was not. You’re suggesting that I have animus or that I cut a deal with the president. And I was very clear that that hasn’t happened.” Amy replied.   

She further indicated that she takes a broad interpretation of the  “severability doctrine” in which courts assume that when one provision of a law is unlawful, Congress would want the rest of the statute to remain in place. This is consistent with recent Supreme Court decisions. “I think insofar as it tries to effectuate what Congress would have wanted, it’s the court and Congress working hand in hand,” Barrett said of severability. “If I were on the court, and if a case involving the ACA came before me, I would approach it with an open mind. 

Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) criticized Amy for using the term “sexual preference”. Mazie exclaimed that “sexual preference is an offensive and outdated term.” Commentators later pointed out the Presidential candidate Joe Biden used the phrase in June, and distributed clips of Ruth Bader Ginsburg using it too. Amy later apologized for using the term. Much of the LGBTQ community do consider it outdated as it implies choice. 

Republican senators, on the other hand, highlighted Amy’s belief in sticking to the text of laws and the original meaning of constitutional provisions.  As she said in her opening statement, Courts are not designed to solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life. The policy decisions and value judgments of government must be made by the political branches elected by and accountable to the People. The public should not expect courts to do so, and courts should not try. 

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

The most dramatic turn occurred on Tuesday when Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), furnished with diagrams and chalkboard signs, launched into an attack about “dark money,” suggesting that a nefarious network of groups like the Federalist Society were using non-profit groups to transform the Supreme Court, with Barrett one cog in that wheel. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) rebutted and explained, with reference to the Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010), which allows unlimited spending, that it is actually Democrat groups, such as Demand Justice, who spent $5 million opposing Brett Kavanaugh and just bought a 7-figure ad buy opposing Barrett’s confirmation. Cruz said, “So, all of the great umbrage about the corporate interests who are spending dark money is wildly in conflict with the actual facts that the corporate interests that are spending dark money are funding the Democrats, by a factor of 3-to-1 or greater. 

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX)/Photo by: Screenshot C-SPAN

Senator Cruz, himself a former Supreme Court Law clerk, summarised the hearings so far by sayingThe last three days of hearings have revealed very good news. They have revealed the news that Judge Barrett is going to be confirmed by this committee and by the full Senate. With two full days of questioning, we’ve seen that our Democratic colleagues have very few questions actually to raise about Judge Barrett’s qualifications. 

Cruz continued, “Instead, much of this hearing has focused on political attacks directed at President Trump. They’ve largely abandoned even trying to make the case that Judge Barrett is anything other than exceptionally well qualified to serve as a justice. 

Commentator Logan Sekulow said of the hearings, her confirmation seems “somewhat fait accompli”.

 

Carol King received a first-class BA (honors) in History and Politics from Stirling University, along with an exceptional commendation for a study on US public opinion and Foreign Policy. She also completed a year of study at the University of London before taking up a Graduate Proctor Fellowship at Princeton University. She further completed an MPhil in American Politics at Dundee University. Aspiring to be a writer/commentator on American politics, she now writes for UncoverDC.

Twitter: @CarolKing561