U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett said Oct. 12 on the first day of her confirmation hearing she has done her best as a federal appeals court judge “to reach the result required by the law” regardless of her own preferences.
In her opening statement, Barrett told a deeply divided Senate Judiciary Committee she believes “Americans of all backgrounds deserve an independent Supreme Court that interprets our Constitution and laws as they are written. And I believe I can serve my country by playing that role.”
Barrett, a judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, will face questioning from committee members the next two days of a four-day hearing before the panel supposedly will vote Oct. 22.
The hearing’s opening day demonstrated each party is united on the committee, the 12 Republicans in support of Barrett’s confirmation and the 10 Democrats opposed to her addition to the high court. For now, it appears the 53-member GOP majority has the votes to confirm Barrett.
Unlike Barrett’s 2017 confirmation hearing for the Seventh Circuit Court, Democratic members avoided comments on her Catholic faith in their opening statements. They also refrained from focusing on the nominee’s view of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized an expansive right to abortion nationwide.
Instead, Democrats concentrated on Barrett’s potential to be the decisive vote to overturn the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA), which reformed health care, and the GOP decision to seek her confirmation shortly before the Nov. 3 election and soon after the Sept. 18 death of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The ACA’s fate will be argued before the high court Nov. 10. Meanwhile, Republican committee members defended Barrett’s qualifications and criticized attempts to apply a religious test to her.
Travis Wussow, a lawyer and Southern Baptist public policy specialist, described Barrett as “a brilliant constitutional law scholar whose qualifications to serve as a justice are without question.”
“As America gets to know her during this week’s Senate hearings, I think many will come to admire her the way those of us who have followed her career for years already do,” said Wussow, vice president for public policy of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in written comments. “The Barrett family serves as an example of what it looks like to raise children and build careers together in a community of faith.”
Barrett, 48, the mother of seven, would be considered the sixth conservative among the justices, though such labeling has not always produced the results that might be expected in rulings on such issues as abortion and the conflict between religious freedom and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
During her statement, the former professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School espoused, as expected, the judicial philosophy of originalism, which seeks to interpret the Constitution based on its original meaning and laws according to their text, and the limited role of the judiciary.
“[C]ourts are not designed to solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life,” Barrett told the committee. “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 acknowledged her indebtedness to the late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, who championed originalism during his 30 years on the high court. Barrett clerked for Scalia in 1998-99.
“[T]he content of Justice Scalia’s reasoning” shaped her, Barrett said. “His judicial philosophy was straightforward: A judge must apply the law as written, not as the judge wishes it were. Sometimes that approach meant reaching results that he did not like. But as he put it in one of his best known opinions, that is what it means to say we have a government of laws, not of men.”
She was honored by President Donald Trump’s offer to nominate her, but she “thought carefully before accepting,” Barrett said. “The confirmation process – and the work of serving on the court if I am confirmed – requires sacrifices, particularly from my family. I chose to accept the nomination because I believe deeply in the rule of law and the place of the Supreme Court in our nation.”
The American Bar Association said in an Oct. 11 letter to the Judiciary Committee’s leadership its Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary rated Barrett as “Well Qualified” to serve on the Supreme Court, while a minority of the panel gave her a “Qualified” rating.
Three years ago, Barrett’s faithful practice as a Catholic brought challenges from senators who opposed her confirmation to the Seventh Circuit Court. Most famously, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the current minority leader on the Judiciary Committee, told Barrett in a hearing “the dogma lives loudly within you.” Feinstein received criticism for applying what some considered an unconstitutional religious test.
Though Democrats declined to focus on Barrett’s religion in their opening statements, her participation in a Christian network known as People of Praise and her statements – especially on abortion – have produced much attention and criticism since her nomination. Some GOP committee members took the opportunity to rebuke criticism based on religious belief.
“Religious liberty is the default assumption of our entire system, and because religious liberty is the fundamental 101 rule in American life, we don’t have religious tests,” Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said. “This committee isn’t in the business of deciding whether the dogma lives too loudly within someone. This committee isn’t in the business of deciding which religious beliefs are good and which religious beliefs are bad and which religious beliefs are weird.”
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee, criticized Republicans for “rushing this process and jamming President Trump’s nominee through the Senate while people are actually voting just 22 days before the end of the election.” She called it an “illegitimate committee process.”
Harris, who spoke by video rather than in the hearing room, criticized the decision to hold the hearing at this time in the COVID-19 pandemic as “reckless.” One other Democrat and two Republican members of the committee delivered their statements remotely rather than in person. Committee members practiced social distancing, and many wore masks when not speaking.
If confirmed, Barrett would become the third justice Trump has placed on the nine-member court during his four years in office. He previously nominated, and the Senate confirmed, federal appeals court judges Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
Barrett’s confirmation also would result in her becoming the first mother of school-age children to be on the Supreme Court. Barrett’s family joined her in the hearing room.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)