The confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court are scheduled to begin on Monday, and the coronavirus outbreak from her introduction at the White House will loom over the proceedings.
President Donald Trump’s Sept. 26th Rose Garden announcement of Barrett as his choice to succeed the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a “superspreader event,” according to Dr. Anthony Fauci. An NBC News tally shows at least 13 attendees tested positive for the coronavirus after the outdoor ceremony and indoor VIP celebration.
Among those who tested positive were Republican Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Mike Lee of Utah — members of the Judiciary Committee that will be conducting the hearings on Barrett’s nomination.
Lee also interacted with Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., after the Rose Garden event. Graham said he tested negative for the virus last week, but he refused demands from Democratic Senate challenger Jaime Harrison to take another test before their debate in South Carolina on Friday.
Democrats on the 22-member Judiciary Committee, including vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, say they’re concerned the hearings could be another superspreader. Three of them asked Graham in a letter last week to delay the hearing to “ensure that we don’t risk the health and safety of fellow Senators, Senate staff, other Senate employees, as well as Judge Barrett and her family.”
Harris, who grilled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, will be watched for how aggressively she questions Barrett given that the hearings come with about three weeks left in the presidential campaign.
Graham and the Republicans, who are eager to speed the nomination through as quickly as possible for fear they’ll lose control of the Senate and the White House in the November election, have refused to budge.
There will be some coronavirus safety measures in place for the hearings, which are set begin at 9 a.m. ET on Monday and continue through Thursday.
The senators’ seats will be 6-feet apart, as has been standard for Senate hearings during the pandemic, and each senator has wipes, napkins and hand sanitizer at their sear. Senators also can attend remotely, and members of the public will not be allowed into the hearing room.
Monday’s proceedings include opening statements by committee members and Barrett, with the nominee answering questions from the committee on Tuesday. That will be followed by testimony from friends of Barrett and legal experts.
The stakes are high for both sides.
Barrett’s confirmation would cement conservative control of the nation’s highest court, giving them a 6-3 advantage. At 48-years-old, Barrett would become the youngest member of the court and would potentially be able to serve for decades.
Barrett, who serves on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, has been on the bench since 2017, after she was nominated for the job by Trump. Prior to that, the Louisiana native worked briefly in private practice and taught for 15 years at Notre Dame law school, where she earned her law degree.
She was also a law clerk to a federal appeals court judge in Washington and to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, whom she’s called her mentor and an “incalculable influence.”
A devout Catholic, Barrett has the backing of evangelicals who consider her a likely vote to overturn the Roe v. Wade abortion decision. Democrats have said she’s also likely to side against the Affordable Care Act. The high court is scheduled to hear that case on Nov. 10th.
Questions also have been raised about Barrett’s possible association with the People of Praise religious group.
Only three Democrats voted in favor of her nomination in 2017, and none are expected to do so now. They’ve accused the Republicans of being hypocrites for rushing through the nomination in the final weeks of the election after GOP senators refused to even consider then-President Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland in early 2016 because, they argued, it was an election year.
At the hearings, Democrats — who have acknowledged there’s little they can do to derail the nomination — are expected to focus on items that Barrett initially omitted from answers in her Senate questionnaire, including her failure to disclose her participation in a 2006 newspaper ad calling for Roe v. Wade to be overturned and ending its “barbaric legacy.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has accused the Democrats of exhibiting anti-Catholic bias with their opposition.
During Barrett’s 2017 confirmation hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., questioned whether her beliefs would color her legal judgment and told her, “The dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s a concern.”
Barrett responded, “It’s never appropriate for a judge to impose that judge’s personal convictions, whether they arise from faith or anywhere else, on the law.”
While Democrats have been more restrained with their language since Barrett’s nomination, McConnell said they’ve been using “euphemisms” to suggest she would put her beliefs first.
“The ongoing attacks by Senate Democrats and the media on Judge Barrett’s faith are a disgrace. They demean the confirmation process, disrespect the Constitution and insult millions of American believers,” McConnell said in a statement.
Republicans don’t have much margin for error. Two Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine have said they wouldn’t vote for any nominee given the proximity to the presidential election.
That leaves Republicans with 51 votes — just enough to confirm Barrett, barring defections or illness. If there’s a 50-50 tie, Vice President Mike Pence could break it.