Republicans and Democrats Deeply Divided On Supreme Court Nomination of Barrett

October 13, 2020 by Tom Ramstack
Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is sworn in during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)

WASHINGTON — The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee predicted the outcome of confirmation hearings to the U.S. Supreme Court of Amy Coney Barrett shortly after the first session started Monday morning.

“All the Republicans will vote yes, all the Democrats will vote no,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Republicans hold a majority of 12 on the committee that makes the final choice on confirmation.

Graham described Barrett’s candidacy for the Supreme Court as “in the category of excellent, something the country should be proud of.” 

Nevertheless, the 10 Democrats hammered away at Barrett for her previous opposition to the Affordable Care Act and abortion. They characterized her as an uncompromising conservative and potential activist judge.

They also said the confirmation hearings so close to the November 3 presidential election were a power play by President Donald Trump and his Republican allies.

“We are now just 22 days from the election, Mr. Chairman,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the committee. “Voting is underway in 40 states. Senate Republicans are pressing forward, full speed ahead, to consolidate the court that will carry their policies forward.”

The hearings are scheduled daily through Thursday. The first day was marked by protests outside congressional offices and the Supreme Court.

Police stood guard at doorways as conservative demonstrators waved signs with Barrett’s picture on them and opponents of her nomination staged a sit-in outside the Supreme Court. Twenty-one of them were arrested on charges of “unlawful demonstration activities.”

Barrett has served as a judge since 2017 on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, based in Chicago. Before becoming a federal judge, she worked as a law professor at the University of Notre Dame. On September 26, Trump nominated her to succeed Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. 

Her actions that won support from conservatives but opposition from liberals included a letter Barrett signed in 2012 criticizing the Obama administration’s policy of requiring religious institutions to pay for employee birth control insurance coverage.

She also has criticized the Supreme Court’s 2012 majority opinion in National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius, which upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that individual taxpayers purchase health insurance.

In her opening remarks, Barrett avoided specific controversies, instead promising to make decisions based on the law rather than her personal opinions. She also talked about her experience, family and lessons she learned from other judges.

“The policy decisions and value judgments of government must be made by the political branches elected by and accountable to the people,” Barrett said. “The public should not expect courts to do so, and courts should not try.”

She seemed to show the greatest respect for former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who she served as a law clerk.

“Justice Scalia taught me more than just law,” Barrett said. “He was devoted to his family, resolute in his beliefs and fearless of criticism. And as I embarked on my own legal career, I resolved to maintain that same perspective.”

Democrats were united in underscoring what they said was a threat to the Affordable Care Act if Barrett wins a Supreme Court appointment. They put up large photos behind their seats showing people whose lives had been saved by the medical care they received only because of the Affordable Care Act.

Senator Kamala Harris, a California Democrat who is running for vice president, has made defending the Affordable Care Act from its Republican critics part of her campaign strategy.

“They are trying to get a justice onto the Court in time to ensure they can strip away the protections in the Affordable Care Act,” Harris said about the Republicans. “If they succeed, it will result in millions of people losing access to health care at the worst possible time in the middle of a pandemic.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., added a personal story about her husband who tested positive for coronavirus early this year.

“He ended up in the hospital for a week on oxygen with severe pneumonia, and months after he got it, I find out the president knew it was airborne but he didn’t tell us,” Klobuchar said.

Republicans stuck with a strategy that defended Barrett’s record but also sought to portray her Democratic critics as only barely hiding their antagonism of her Catholic faith.

Senator Ben Sasse, R-Neb., accused Democrats of opposing her on the unconstitutional basis of her religious affiliation.

“This committee is not in the business of deciding which religious beliefs are good, which are bad and which religious beliefs are weird,” Sasse said.

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