WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett batted back Democrats’ skeptical questions on abortion, health care and a possible disputed election in a lively Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday, insisting she would bring no personal agenda to the court but would decide cases “as they come.”
The 48-year-old appellate court judge declared her conservative views with often colloquial language, but refused many specifics. She declined to say whether she would recuse herself from any election-related cases involving President Donald Trump, who nominated her to fill the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and is pressing to have her confirmed before the the Nov. 3 election.
“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,” Barrett told the Senate Judiciary Committee during its second day of hearings.
“It’s not the law of Amy,” she said. “It’s the law of the American people.”
Barrett returned to a Capitol Hill mostly locked down with COVID-19 protocols, the mood quickly shifting to a more confrontational tone from opening day. She was grilled in 30-minute segments by Democrats strongly opposed to Trump’s nominee yet unable to stop her. Excited by the prospect of a conservative judge aligned with the late Antonin Scalia, Trump’s Republican allies are rushing ahead to install a 6-3 conservative court majority for years to come.
Trump has said he wants a justice seated for any disputes arising from his heated election with Democrat Joe Biden, but Barret testified she has not spoken to Trump or his team about election cases. Pressed by panel Democrats, she skipped over questions about ensuring the date of the election or preventing voter intimidation, both set in federal law, and declined to commit to recusing herself from any post-election cases without first consulting the other justices.
“I can’t offer an opinion on recusal without short-circuiting that entire process,” she said.
A frustrated Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the panel, all but implored the nominee to be more specific about how she would handle landmark abortion cases, including Roe v. Wade and the follow-up Pennsylvania case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which confirmed it in large part.
“It’s distressing not to get a good answer,” Feinstein told the judge.
Barrett was unmoved. “I don’t have an agenda to try to overrule Casey,” she said. “I have an agenda to stick to the rule of law and decide cases as they come.”
She later declined to characterize the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion as a “super-precedent” that would not be overturned.
The Indiana judge, accompanied by her family, described herself as taking a conservative, originalist approach to the Constitution. She told the senators that while she admires Scalia, her conservative mentor for whom she once clerked, she would bring her own approach.
“You would not be getting Justice Scalia, you would be getting Justice Barrett,” she declared.
Senators probed her views on gun ownership and racial equity, at one point drawing an emotional response from the mother of seven, whose children include two adopted from Haiti, as she described watching the video of the death of George Floyd at the hands of police.
“Racism persists,” she said, adding that Floyd’s death had a “very personal” effect on her family and that she and her children wept over it. But she told Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., that “making broader diagnoses about the problem of racism is kind of beyond what I’m capable of doing as a judge.”
Republicans were thrilled when she held up a blank notebook, apparently showing she had been fielding questions without aid.