Democrats will get their first crack at questioning Amy Coney Barrett on Tuesday during her U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearing, where they plan to focus on how she might move the court in a more conservative direction on issues such as health care and abortion.
Asking their pointed questions for American voters to hear, and drawing whatever answers they can from President Donald Trump’s nominee, may be all Democrats can hope to achieve, since Senate Republicans have the numbers and the determination to seat Barrett before the Nov. 3 election.
Democrats say the confirmation of Barrett, a federal appeals court judge who is a former clerk and protege of the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, could yield a high court that restricts abortion and consumer rights, relaxes gun restrictions and casts aside the 2010 health-care law known as Obamacare, which provides health insurance to more than 20 million Americans and protects people with pre-existing conditions.
“President Trump and Senate Republicans see the potential to wildly swing the balance of the court,” Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont said on Monday, as the committee’s 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats gave their opening statements. “They see the ability to take the courts from being independent to making them instead an arm of the far right and the Republican Party.”
Barrett ended the first of four hearing days with a statement casting herself as a judge who knows how to set aside her personal views and embraces a limited but key role for the federal judiciary. Americans, she said, “deserve an independent Supreme Court that interprets our Constitution and laws as they are written.”
Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said the 48-year-old Barrett is well qualified for the Supreme Court, after three years as a Circuit Court judge and years teaching at Notre Dame Law School in South Bend, Indiana. Graham defended Trump’s decision to nominate her, just 38 days before the presidential election, to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose Sept. 18 death silenced one of court’s leading liberal voices.
In addition to raising alarm about what the court might do under a conservative 6-3 majority, Democrats continued to insist that Ginsburg’s replacement shouldn’t be named until after the Nov. 3 election, when voters decide whether to give Trump a second term.
“There’s nothing unconstitutional about this process,” Graham said. “This is a vacancy that has occurred through the tragic loss of a great woman and we’re going to fill that vacancy with another great woman.”
Health Care Focus
All senators on the committee will have a chance to question Barrett over the next two days. The proceedings include unusual safety precautions after two Republican panel members — Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina — tested positive for the coronavirus less than two weeks ago. Four committee members on Monday participated remotely, including Senator Kamala Harris of California, the Democratic vice presidential nominee.
Democrats on the committee say they will focus their questioning on her potential impact on the ACA. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the Trump administration’s bid to invalidate the law on Nov. 10, a week after the election.
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“This well could mean that if Judge Barrett is confirmed, Americans could lose the benefits that the ACA provides,” Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee’s top Democrat, said on Monday
Democrats will question Barrett, a devout Catholic, on how she might rule on cases related to issues such as abortion. Republicans are warning them not to engage in personal attacks about Barrett’s religion, but Democrats have avoided mentioning her Catholic faith explicitly and say they can query her about her past writings and record as a judge. Barrett has made clear she personally opposes abortion and sees life as worthy of protections beginning at conception.
Democrats say they also will delve into other issues, including gun rules, workplace discrimination and the power of federal regulatory agencies. They also want to explore her views about whether and when Supreme Court precedents can be overturned, and they will demand to know whether she will recuse herself in any cases stemming from the presidential election.
Graham says he will have the committee vote on whether to advance her nomination to the full Senate on Oct. 22. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he will move the confirmation to the Senate floor soon after that.
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