U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett returns to the U.S. Capitol Wednesday for more questioning after a nearly 12-hour session Tuesday in which she 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
Barrett told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee conducting her confirmation hearing that she wouldn’t let her personal and religious views determine how she would decide cases.
“I have no agenda,” Barrett said. “I’ll follow the law.”
Abortion, gun ownership
Barrett, in initial queries from two Republicans, the panel chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, and two Democrats, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Patrick Leahy, 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 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 the court to help decide the election. The president, trailing Biden in national polls, says he wants Barrett confirmed to avoid a 4-4 stalemate on contested election issues.
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 decided 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 reinterpreting it to address current life in the U.S.
Barrett said that if she is confirmed as the fifth woman ever to serve on the court, “You would be getting a Justice Barrett, not a Justice Scalia.”
If confirmed, Barrett would replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal icon who died last month at 87. Democratic critics fear that Barrett would vote to undo many of the reforms championed by Ginsburg, including abortion rights and the right for gays to marry and be treated equally in American society.
Graham called Barrett’s selection “one of the greatest picks President Trump could make.” 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.
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.”
Similarly, Barrett 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.
“It would be wrong for me as a sitting judge to say,” Barrett told Feinstein. “I have to decide cases as they come before me. I can’t pre-commit to judge a case in any way. I’ll follow the law.”
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.
Initial vote planned for Thursday
Graham plans to call for an initial committee vote for Thursday on Barrett’s nomination.
That would allow for 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.