WASHINGTON - Congressional Democrats once again pressed U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett Wednesday on a key upcoming case that if overturned could impact healthcare for millions of Americans.
In the third day of a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Barrett reiterated she is not hostile to the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration health care law that will face a challenge before the nation’s highest court on Nov. 10.
“A judge needs to have an open mind, every step of the way,” Barrett told senators Wednesday. “If I were to just say how I thought I would resolve a case just because I saw the issue, it would be short-circuiting that whole process through which I should go.”
Wednesday marks the second day of questions for U.S. President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee after a nearly 12-hour session Tuesday in which Barrett declined to answer a range of questions from senators on how she might rule on legal disputes she would face if confirmed to fill a crucial vacancy on the country’s highest court.
'I’ll follow the law'
Barrett has told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee conducting her confirmation hearing this week that she wouldn’t let her personal and religious views determine how she would decide cases.
“I have no agenda,” Barrett said Tuesday. “I’ll follow the law.”
Barrett has repeatedly declined to say how she might rule on the court’s 1973 legalization of abortions in the United States, gun ownership rights sanctioned by the U.S. Constitution and whether, in a case to be heard by the court next month, the country’s national health care law should remain in effect.
She has also rebuffed a question on whether she would recuse herself, if she is quickly confirmed by the Senate, from considering any legal disputes arising from the Nov. 3 national election. President Donald Trump, who nominated Barrett, is trying to win a second four-year term in the White House and faces Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden.
Trump has assailed mass balloting by mail and said he wants a fully staffed court ready to rule on any legal disputes over balloting and election results. With eight current justices, the court could potentially deadlock 4-to-4.
Barrett said she has had no conversations with Trump or his staff “on how I would rule” on election disputes. She said it would have been unethical for her as a sitting federal appellate court judge to have such a discussion.
The 48-year-old Barrett is a favorite of U.S. conservatives looking to give the court a commanding 6-3 conservative majority. She has cited the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom she served as a law clerk two decades ago, as her philosophical mentor, for his strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution as written two centuries ago rather than interpreting it to address current life in the U.S.
Addressing her past association on Wednesday, Barrett told ranking Judiciary Committee member Senator Dianne Feinstein, "When I said that Justice Scalia's philosophy is mine too, I certainly didn't mean to say that every sentence that came out of Justice Scalia's mouth or every sentence that he wrote is one that I would agree with."
If confirmed, Barrett would replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal icon who died last month at 87. She would be the fifth woman ever to serve on the court.
Democrats fear that Barrett would vote to undo many of the reforms championed by Ginsburg, including the right of same-sex couples to wed and abortion rights.
Barrett told Senators Wednesday that in part she could not comment on how she would approach cases on abortion because several cases on the issue are working their way through lower courts.
Barrett has said as an appellate court judge she has set aside her devout Catholic beliefs to issue rulings according to U.S. law and could do so again on the Supreme Court.
But she made no promises on how she might rule on abortion, which the Catholic Church opposes.
She said high court precedent from long-ago rulings is “presumptively controlling,” and that some decisions fall into the “super precedent” category, such as the 1954 decision banning school segregation by races as unequal treatment of Blacks and unconstitutional.
Scalia dissented against abortion rights, but Barrett declined to say whether she also thinks the legality of abortion was wrongly decided.
On gun rights, other issues
Earlier this week, Barrett assured Graham that despite her family owning a gun, she could fairly “decide such a case” calling for tighter restrictions on gun ownership sanctioned by the Constitution’s Second Amendment.
Barrett said that even as the court has ruled that Americans have a personal right to own a gun, the ruling “leaves room for gun regulation. I promise I would come to that with an open mind. Any issue should be decided by the facts of the case.”
At another point in Tuesday’s questioning, Barrett told Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, “I’m 100% committed to judicial independence.”
But Klobuchar said she fears that a Justice Barrett “would be the polar opposite” of Ginsburg in the way she votes on key cases. “That’s what concerns me,” Klobuchar said.
Barrett did express a willingness to consider breaking the long-held Supreme Court tradition of not allowing cameras into the courtroom.
“I would certainly keep an open mind about cameras in the Supreme Court,” Barrett said.
Public support for Barrett appears to be rising in the weeks since Trump announced her nomination on September 26. In Morning Consult/Politico poll conducted October 2-4 before confirmation hearings began, 46% of voters said the Senate should confirm Barrett, a nine-point increase in a week-long span.
"The hearing to me is an opportunity to not punch through a glass ceiling, but a reinforced concrete barrier around conservative women. You are going to shatter that barrier,” Graham told Barrett Wednesday.
He predicted Monday that the committee's 12 Republicans will all vote in favor of Barrett's nomination with all 10 Democrats opposed. Republican leaders say they have enough votes in the full Senate to confirm her nomination.
Graham plans to hold an initial committee vote Thursday on Barrett’s nomination.
That would allow for the committee’s final approval late next week and a vote by the full Republican-majority Senate before the end of the month, just days ahead of the presidential and congressional elections.