Senate Witnesses Show Political Stakes of Trump’s Court Nominee

Experts called to the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday by Republicans praised Amy Coney Barrett‘s legal career and character, while Democrats’ witnesses said there were perils in rushing to confirm her to the Supreme Court before the Nov. 3 election.

Speaking in the fourth and final day of Barrett’s confirmation hearing, witnesses called by the committee’s Democrats focused on issues such as health care, abortion and civil rights that they said could be fundamentally changed by a ruling from a conservative majority on the high court. Barrett’s nomination by President Donald Trump to replace the liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg would shift the court decidedly to the right.

“Judge Barrett’s strict adherence to originalism and textualism stands to turn our country back decades,” said Kristen Clarke, head of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, saying Barrett’s views imperil “African Americans women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and more.”

The Republican witnesses said Barrett, a 48-year-old appellate court judge, is highly qualified to sit on the Supreme Court. They praised her professional qualities and ability to separate her official duties from her Catholic faith.

“While some of the discussion about Judge Barrett’s faith has been tarnished with bigotry, some of it comes from a sincere desire to know whether her faith will dictate her decisions,” said GOP witness Thomas Griffith. “Let me assure you, it will not.”

Griffith, who recently retired from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, said the oath of a federal judge is “intended to transform the citizen into an impartial judge, whose loyalty while performing her judicial role is to the Constitution and laws of the United States and not to any precedent, party or religion.”

Democrats recognized that there’s little they can do to prevent Barrett from being confirmed, and Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham said the panel will vote to advance Barrett’s nomination on Oct. 22. The full Senate will begin debating confirmation the next day and likely vote on it the following week.

Democrats have argued that her confirmation would be illegitimate coming so close to an election in which people have already begun voting. Still, the four days of the hearing featured largely respectful exchanges between senators, and Graham, who is facing his own tough re-election race for his South Carolina Senate seat, praised his Democratic colleagues for their civility.

“I don’t know how this election is going to come out,” Graham said. “I’ll just say this: if I’m around I will commit myself to starting over. Looking forward not backward.”

Democrats spent much of the first three days arguing that Barrett’s confirmation will imperil the Affordable Care Act, which is the focus of a case before the Supreme Court a week after the election.

The committee’s minority party invited four witnesses, including people who shared personal stories about the need for the ACA and the right to have an abortion.

Unlike President Donald Trump’s previous two Supreme Court nominations, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, no prominent liberals testified in support of Barrett’s confirmation.

Republicans also invited four witnesses, including Griffith, who spoke about his experience being a sitting judge as a person of faith. They also invited a professor and two practicing lawyers to speak of Barrett’s character, work ethic and professional qualities.

Barrett fielded questions from theSenate Judiciary Committee both Tuesday and Wednesday. She declined to answer many of Democrats’ questions about how she views specific issues, citing the practice of not opining on anything that could come up in a case before the court.

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