The third day of confirmation hearings for the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court is underway before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Barrett, 48, was nominated last month to fill the seat of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Wednesday marks the second round of the question-and-answer phase, during which the 22 senators that make up the powerful committee will each have 20 minutes to question President Trump’s nominee to the bench on the topics of their choosing.
If later rounds of questioning are approved by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC), which is likely to happen, senators will be given 10 minutes each for their questions.
On Monday and Tuesday, Senate Judiciary Democrats, who make up 10 of the 22 committee lawmakers, made protecting the Affordable Care Act a primary focus of their opening statements and initial questioning of the potential Supreme Court justice.
Democrats were seated on both days in front of blown-up pictures of people at risk of losing their insurance in an upcoming Supreme Court case.
The Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the ACA next month that is being brought by the Trump administration’s Justice Department.
If confirmed, Democrats have argued, the Trump-appointed justice would vote in favor of the Trump administration’s challenge to the law.
Barrett, however, defended her judicial independence, declaring in response to a question Tuesday that she made no indication to anyone about repealing the Affordable Care Act.
“Judges can’t just wake up one day and say, ‘I have an agenda, I like guns,’ ‘I hate guns,’ ‘I like abortion,’ ‘I hate abortion’ and walk in like a royal queen and impose their will on the world,” the judge told committee senators.
Early on in Tuesday’s proceedings, Graham asked Barrett to explain her judicial philosophy “in English,” jokingly noting that fellow Judiciary member Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) was a constitutional scholar who regularly used flowery language to explain legal jargon.
“In English, that means that I interpret the Constitution as a law, that I interpret its text as text, and I understand it to have the meaning that it had at the time people ratified it. So that meaning doesn’t change over time, and it’s not up to me to update it or infuse my own policy views into it,” she explained of being an originalist.
Asked by Graham to respond to being labeled the “female Scalia” — a reference to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, an ardent originalist for whom Barrett clerked from 1998 to 1999 — the judge was hesitant to accept the moniker.
“I would say that Justice Scalia was obviously a mentor. And as I said, when I accepted the president’s nomination, that his philosophy is mine, too. You know, he was a very eloquent defender of originalism and that was also true of textualism, which is the way that I approach statutes and the interpretations,” she began, expressing praise for the late justice.
Still, she cautioned, “I want to be careful to say that if I am confirmed, you would not be getting Justice Scalia. You would be getting Justice Barrett.”
Barrett went on to explain that just as originalists don’t always agree, textualists do not either.
In advance of the hearings, Democrats were vocal about their plans to focus on health care.
The shift has been a significant one from that of the chaotic hearings surrounding the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
During Kavanaugh’s 2018 hearings, Democrats took heat for their handling of the process from both sides, something they hoped to avoid this time around.
What has been barely mentioned as a result is Barrett’s Roman Catholic faith, which Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was criticized for bringing up during Barrett’s 2017 confirmation hearings to become a federal judge.
During questioning, Feinstein said that “when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you and that’s a concern.”
On Monday, Graham called for civility ahead of the start of the confirmation process.
“This is going to be a long, contentious week. I would just ask one thing of the committee. To the extent possible, let’s make it respectful, let’s make it challenging, let’s remember, the world is watching,” he requested of his fellow Judiciary Committee lawmakers.
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