Barrett’s Supreme Court hearing opens as GOP seeks speedy OK

Mark Sherman, Lisa Mascaro And Mary Clare Jalonick Associated Press
Monday, October 12, 2020
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Supporters of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, rally at the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, Oct. 12, 2020. Barrett’s confirmation hearing begins Monday before the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee. AP PHOTO

WASHINGTON (AP) — Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing began Monday as the Republican-led Senate charged ahead to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with President Donald Trump’s pick, aiming to cement the conservative court majority before Election Day.

Barrett was wearing a face mask, as were all the roughly 100 people in the cavernous hearing room.

Barring a dramatic development, Republicans appear to have the votes to confirm the 48-year-old conservative appellate judge to a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, meeting on a federal holiday, kicked off four days of statements and testimony in an environment that has been altered by the coronavirus pandemic. Some senators were taking part remotely, and the hearing room itself was arranged with health concerns in mind.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., opened the hearing acknowledging “the COVID problem in America is real.” But he said, “We do have a country that needs to move forward safely.”

Graham acknowledged the obvious: “This is going to be a long, contentious week.”

Democrats wasted no time in calling Barrett’s nomination a threat to the Affordable Care

Act. If she is confirmed quickly she could be on the Supreme Court when it hears the latest challenge to the law popularly known as “Obamacare” on Nov. 10, a week after the election.

“Health care coverage for millions of Americans is at stake with this nomination,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee’s senior Democrat, said.

California’s other senator, and the Democrats’ nominee for vice president, Sen. Kamala Harris was at the Capitol complex, but was participating remotely.

“We are 22 days away from an election and people are voting right now. And that’s the focus given that they’re trying to push through, ram through a Supreme Court justice for a lifetime appointment while almost seven million people have already voted,” Harris said as she arrived at her office.

Barrett, a federal appeals court judge, was to tell senators that she is “forever grateful” for Ginsburg’s trailblazing path as a woman. But she is resolved to maintain the perspective of her own mentor, the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and “apply the law as written,” according to her prepared opening remarks for the hearings.

“Courts are not designed to solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life,” Barrett says in the remarks, which The Associated Press obtained.

Republicans are moving at a breakneck pace to seat Barrett before the Nov. 3 election to secure Trump’s pick, which would put her on the bench for any election-related challenges.

Democrats are trying in vain to delay the fast-track confirmation by raising fresh concerns about the safety of meeting during the pandemic after two GOP senators on the panel tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, one of those who tested positive, was in the hearing room Monday after his spokesman said he was symptom-free. The other affected senator, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, was participating remotely, though he too is symptom-free, his spokesman said. Both tested positive 10 days ago.

Like Harris, some Democrats also are not setting foot in the hearing room because of coronavirus concerns.

The committee released a letter from the Architect of the Capitol on Sunday that said the hearing room had been set up in consultation with the Office of Attending Physician with appropriate distance between seats and air ventilation systems that meet or exceed industry standards.

Graham said that the hearing room was “CDC-compliant.” He said Sunday that he took a coronavirus test last week and is “negative.”

Trump chose Barrett after the death last month of Ginsburg, a liberal icon. It’s the opportunity to entrench a conservative majority on the court for years to come with his third justice.

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