Recap: Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings

Amy Coney Barrett holds up a blank notepad when asked what she is using to help her answer questions. Some people were critical of this, while others applauded her intelligence.

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Alex Wilson, Reporter

   Following the breaking news that trailblazer for women’s rights and Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away, President Donald Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, to succeed her. The nomination was immediately controversial, as a vacancy on the Supreme Court prior to the 2016 election was left empty because it was an election year. In 2016, Senator Lindsey Graham promised that if a seat on the Supreme Court were to open up on an election year where a Republican was president, the same precedent would be held—but that will likely be a broken promise this election year. Debates surrounding the nomination built anticipation for the Supreme Court confirmation hearings, and they did not disappoint.

   Barrett’s opening statement included words about her family and morals, stating “I am used to being in a group of nine—my family. Nothing is more important to me, and I am so proud to have them behind me.” She pointed out how she would bring new perspectives to the table, being the only mother of school-age children and the only person who did not attend Yale or Harvard of the sitting justices. As she moved into how she would interpret the law as a justice, she stated, referencing former justice Antonin Scalia, “a judge must apply the law as it is written, not as she wishes it were.” She continues to say that “the policy decisions and value judgments of government must be made by the political branches elected by and accountable to the people. The public should not expect courts to do so, and courts should not try.” She again relates her family to her professional life, saying that she considers every word from the losing party, and tries to understand it by viewing the decision as if she were ruling against her child. “Even though I would not like the result,” Barrett says, “would I understand that the decision was fairly reasoned and grounded in the law?”

   Senator Marsha Blackburn shifted the focus to Democrat Senators, stating to Barrett, “given your track record, you would think my colleagues would jump at the opportunity to support a successful female legal superstar… But as today’s paternalistic and frankly disrespectful arguments have shown, if they had it their way, only certain kinds of women would be allowed into this hearing room.” Blackburn continued to heighten already existing tensions by pinning disapproval for the nomination on Democrats, who, according to her, “scrutinize” and “question” Barrett’s “competency and professionalism.”

   Barrett also repeatedly refused to answer questions about America’s most touchy subjects, including when she was explicitly asked on the first day about the Obergefell ruling, a landmark Supreme Court decision guaranteeing marriage equality for gay Americans. “I have no agenda and I do want to be clear that I have never discriminated on the basis of sexual preference and would not ever discriminate on the basis of sexual preference,” she said, “like racism, I think discrimination is important. On the questions of law, however, because I’m a sitting judge and because you can’t answer questions without going through the judicial process, can’t give answers to those very specific questions.”

   On the second day of the hearing, Barrett was grilled for eleven straight hours on topics that are likely to be brought to the Supreme Court, such as LGBTQ rights and abortion. Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris was present over video to express how important Barrett’s appointment to the Supreme Court would be for women’s abortion rights and healthcare. “The threat to choice is real,” Harris said at the hearing, referencing the danger that the Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade may be in, “I would suggest that we not pretend that we don’t know how this nominee views a woman’s right to choose.” Barrett maintained that she has not made any commitment about how she would handle any cases brought to the Supreme Court, emphasizing that she has no agenda and will base her decisions purely on the law. She continued this trend of refusing questions when asked about the Affordable Care Act.

   Senator Cory Booker asked Barrett if she condemns white supremacy, to which she replied that she does. The question comes from major controversy surrounding President Trump’s reaction to the same question during the first presidential debate, where he did not outright condemn white supremacist groups. “I’m glad to see that you said that,” Booker replied, “I wish our president would say that so resolutely and unequivocally as well.”

   Barrett declined to answer a question on whether a peaceful transfer of power between presidents should be a commitment that the losing party makes, saying that it is too much of a political controversy for her to give an opinion. She also did not give an opinion on abortion when Senator Josh Hawley asked her about a letter she signed in 2006 that called for “ending the barbaric legacy of Roe v. Wade.”

   On the third day, Barrett, again, declined to answer more questions, dodging the topic of climate change altogether. Harris asked Barrett a series of questions: whether smoking cigarettes cause cancer, whether COVID-19 is an infectious disease, and whether climate change is real and happening. Barrett replied, “I will not express a view on a matter of public policy, especially one that is politically controversial because that’s inconsistent with the judicial role.”

   She was also applauded by Graham for being “unashamedly pro-life” and that she would be a breakthrough for conservative women if appointed. Barrett was asked if she had anything to say to young women in America, to which she replied “make decisions. Be confident. Know what you want. And go get it.”

   The fourth day of the hearings was commenced without Barrett. Democrat senators were very critical of the nominee, saying that she will change Americans’ lives in a negative way. More discussions about the future of the Affordable Care Act and Roe v. Wade occurred, despite Barrett refusing to give any hint about how she would rule as a Supreme Court justice.