Supreme Court nominee strives to show independence


The second day of Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing quickly turned to discussion of a few notable high court cases, including key decisions on abortion and gun rights. Barrett told senators that it is her job to follow the law of the United States, not the “Law of Amy.” (Oct. 13)

AP Domestic

WASHINGTON – Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett fought back Tuesday against caricatures that she is a committed advocate for conservative causes chosen by President Donald Trump to do his bidding on issues ranging from abortion to the Affordable Care Act.

In a marathon session before the Senate Judiciary Committee just three weeks from Election Day, Barrett was put on the defensive by Democrats charging that she was picked because of her views on abortion, gun rights, same-sex marriage and particularly the health care law headed to the high court for the third time next month.

“That is their stated objective and plan. Why not take them at their word?” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said in reference to Republicans and special-interest groups backing Barrett’s nomination.

Barrett strived to show her independence from the president and conservative forces that have joined together in hopes of a speedy confirmation, wedged tightly between Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death and an election that Trump has made clear could be challenged in court.

“I certainly hope that all members of the committee have more confidence in my integrity than to think that I would allow myself to be used as a pawn to decide the election for the American people,” Barrett said.

More: Supreme Court begins 2020 term as a key election issue: Will it decide the election, too?

In essence, she came to the hearing with an agenda: to assure senators she has no agenda.

“Judges cannot just wake up one day and say: ‘I have an agenda. I like guns. I hate abortion,’ and walk in like a royal queen and impose their will on the world,” she said.

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett listens during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. (Photo: Bonnie Cash, AP)

Despite efforts by Democrats to paint her as a hard-right conservative, Barrett refused to be pinned down on such hot-button issues as race and LGBTQ rights. When the subject of racial justice came up, she recounted how she wept with one of her daughters, who is Black and adopted from Haiti, over the death of George Floyd while being pinned down by police in Minneapolis. 

“Racism persists in our country,” she said, but she added that fixing racism is a question for the other branches of government to handle.

More: Amy Coney Barrett says George Floyd video was personal for family

Throughout what would become a 12-hour day, including long-winded statements from senators during which Barrett sat stone-faced, the 48-year-old federal appeals court judge and law school professor from Indiana sought to define herself as someone who puts personal views aside and addresses legal issues with an open mind.

“If I’m confirmed, you would not be getting Justice Scalia, you would be getting Justice Barrett,” she said in reference to her more outspoken mentor, the late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. 

More: The unlikely friendship of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia

“I have made no commitment to anyone, not in the Senate, not over at the White House, about how I would decide any case,” she said.

Much of the questioning concerned three central issues that the Supreme Court deals with frequently: abortion, gun control and health care.

On abortion, Barrett said she understood why Democrats wanted to know her views on Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision legalizing abortion nationwide, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld the right in 1992.

“I have no agenda to try and overrule Casey,” she said. “I have an agenda to stick to the rule of law and decide cases as they come.”

More: Barrett’s law review articles show how Supreme Court rulings like Roe v. Wade could be challenged

On guns, she defended her dissent in a case on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in which she argued that nonviolent felons should retain their right to own firearms. 

More: Ginsburg’s death injects new urgency into Second Amendment debate amid Supreme Court battle

Democrats sought to compare that assertion with a Florida legal dispute over felons’ right to vote, forcing Barrett to separate the “individual” right to gun ownership from the “civic” right to vote. The distinction did not convince Democrats who are concerned about a rash of voting rights cases that could help determine the outcome of next month’s elections.

More: Supreme Court restores witness signature rule for absentee ballots in South Carolina

And on health care, the issue Democrats have chosen to highlight above all others, Barrett said her prior criticisms of the Supreme Court’s rulings upholding the Affordable Care Act do not apply to the case set for oral argument next month.

In 2012, the court was asked to decide if the entire law was unconstitutional. This time, it’s about whether a tax on those who refuse to buy insurance can be severed from the law following action by Congress to eliminate it.

More: Health care law faces another Supreme Court showdown, this time without Justice Ginsburg’s vote

Asked if she would recuse herself from that case given her criticism of the earlier ruling, Barrett said it’s “a legal issue” that she would discuss with her colleagues, not “a question that I could answer in the abstract.”

“I am not hostile to the ACA,” she said. As for whether she was questioned before her nomination on how she would rule in the upcoming case, she said, “I was never asked, and if I had been, that would have been a short conversation.”


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