Judge Amy Coney Barrett made no commitments to President Trump and passionately rejected insinuations she would be his “pawn” in upcoming rulings on Obamacare and possibly the 2020 election, the Supreme Court nominee told the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday.
Citing the longstanding practice of nominees from both the right and left, she declined to hint how she would rule on any cases involving abortion, health care, presidential pardons or elections.
And she rebuffed Democrats’ demands to recuse herself from Obamacare and election cases, saying she would confront those decisions once on the court — and would consult with other justices for advice.
But she bristled at suggestions Mr. Trump picked her to determine the outcome.
“I certainly hope that all members of the committee have more confidence in my integrity than to think I would allow myself to be used as a pawn to decide this election for the American people,” she said.
Mr. Trump, though not in the committee’s hearing room, loomed large over the first day of questioning of Judge Barrett, with Democrats insisting she was in fact picked to carry out his whims.
Judge Barrett fervently rejected that view.
“I have made no pre-commitments to anyone about how I would decide a case,” she said, adding later, “I’m not willing to make a deal. Not with the Congress, not with the president, not with anyone. I’m independent.”
She also delivered an earnest statement on racism and her reaction to the video this year of the death of George Floyd, a Black man, in the custody of Minneapolis police.
“Given that I have two Black children, that was very, very personal for my family,” she said, referring to two of her seven children, adopted from Haiti.
She said she was at home with one of them, her 17-year-old daughter Vivian, when the video came out. “It was very difficult for her. We wept together in my room.”
Pressed by Sen. Cory Booker, New Jersey Democrat, she said there is racial bias in the American criminal justice system.
Judge Barrett sat through about 10 hours of questions and patiently waited out senators’ soliloquies. Unlike Monday’s opening statements, when she wore a black mask, the judge was without a mask as she answered the questions, though she was socially distanced.
She also spoke without any notes.
At one point, Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, spotted the Senate notepad sitting next to her and asked her to hold it up. “Is there anything on it?” he wondered.
She held it up — it was unused.
“That’s impressive,” Mr. Cornyn said.
Photos of that moment went viral online Tuesday.
Democrats did not change the trajectory of Judge Barrett’s nomination. She is speeding toward a narrow confirmation just before Election Day.
But Democrats did succeed in highlighting the political stakes they see, saying her confirmation could decide the fate of Obamacare, abortion rights at the national level — and perhaps even the winner of the presidential election.
They said Mr. Trump himself has fueled the matter by saying how he expected the court to rule.
On the Affordable Care Act, he tweeted this summer that any picks he made to the courts would “do the right thing unlike Bush’s appointee John Roberts on Obamacare.”
And on the election, Mr. Trump last month predicted the election would end up in the Supreme Court and he wanted there to be a ninth justice in place. He also said he was “counting on them to look at the ballots.”
“I don’t think how much clearer we can be,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat. “That is on the mind of the man who nominated you for this job.”
“I can’t speak to what the president said on Twitter,” Judge Barrett said.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, said it wasn’t questioning Judge Barrett’s integrity to point out that she had been picked by a president who has consistently expressed the outcomes he expects.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to confront an Obamacare case on Nov. 10, and Democrats predict that Judge Barrett would be a key vote in striking down the law. They pointed to criticism she wrote in a constitutional law journal of the 2012 ruling by Chief Justice Roberts, when she said his reading of the law wasn’t plausible.
“You were added to the Supreme Court shortlist after you wrote that article,” said Sen. Chris Coons, Delaware Democrat.
But Judge Barrett said the pending case involves different issues than the 2012 case, and she will approach it with an open mind.
“I’m not here on a mission to destroy the ACA. I’m just here to apply the law,” she said.
Democrats also highlighted Judge Barrett’s decision while a law professor at the University of Notre Dame to sign onto petitions or letters backing the Catholic Church’s position on the sanctity of life and opposing abortion. One letter castigated the “barbaric legacy of Roe v. Wade,” the 1973 Supreme Court decision finding a national constitutional right to abortion.
The judge did not include those documents in her initial nearly 2,000-page submission to the committee. The Democratic National Committee said she was trying “to hide much of her past.”
Judge Barrett said she has since supplemented her submission, as most Supreme Court nominees do. She said she didn’t remember the letters until they were reported in the press this month.
Republican senators brushed aside Democrats’ suspicions of obfuscations and secret deals.
“It’s just all a bunch of conspiracy theories,” Mr. Cornyn told reporters outside the hearing room.
Mr. Trump nominated Judge Barrett to fill the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had been the court’s leading liberal light.
“Not having Justice Ginsburg on the court right now is so frightening to so many Americans out there,” Ms. Klobuchar said.
If confirmed, Judge Barrett would become the sixth justice on the current court appointed by a Republican president, with the other three appointed by Democrats.