Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic raging through the nation, Judge Amy Coney Barrett took center stage on Capitol Hill as the first day of the Supreme Court confirmation hearings got underway. Here is what transpired the first day and what to expect for the rest of the process.
Political Theater: President Donald Trump’s controversial Supreme Court nominee appeared in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday for day one of the hearings. It was hard to separate the grand political overtures from the business of confirming Barrett. At times, the event felt more like a political rally rather than a procedural hearing.Read More »
Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham admitted that the hearings were just a formality at this point. Barring any unforeseen complications, Graham said that the vote is expected to fall along party lines.
COVID-19 Complications: As with nearly all facets of life over the last eight months, the COVID-19 health crisis is upending what most consider to be normal. For weeks, Republican senators were nervous that this hearing may not even happen due to the virus spreading through the party ranks. Two of the committee members have tested positive for the virus over the last two weeks, putting into question the viability of in-person hearings.
While he said he expected to be present in person on Tuesday, North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis spoke remotely at Monday’s hearing due to his positive testing diagnosis. Another senator who tested positive, Utah Sen. Mike Lee, appeared in person at the hearings. Lee said that his doctor had cleared him to participate in person. The left has criticized the right for moving forward with the proceedings with so much virus running through the nation’s capital.
Barrett Leans on Scalia in Opening Statement: As expected, Barrett used part of her opening statement to draw parallels between her and the late Justice Antonin Scalia. One of Barrett’s first jobs out of law school was clerking for the conservative Supreme Court justice. She has repeatedly said throughout this process that she owes her philosophies on the law and the literal interpretation of the Constitution on what she learned from Scalia while under his tutelage.
The mother of seven also pointed out that she would be the first mother of school-aged children to be confirmed to this post in history should she make it through the confirmation process. She also made it known that she would be the only sitting justice who did not graduate from Harvard or Yale.
Democrats Put Healthcare at the Forefront: It was clear from the onset that the Democratic strategy was to put healthcare at the forefront of the discussion. Speaking remotely, Sen. Kamala Harris took a break from the campaign trail to state her position on the importance of preserving the Affordable Care Act (ACA), otherwise known as Obamacare. This move by the Democrats to campaign on the behalf of the preservation of this legislation is significant because the Supreme Court is set to hear a case on the ACA on November 10. It has been a rare occurrence for a party to show such unity on one topic as the Democrats did today in their opening statements.
Republicans Seek to Discuss Religion: In direct contrast, the Republicans used their time in front of the microphone to admonish Democrats for calling Barrett’s religious views into question. Republican Sen. Ben Sasse reminded the committee that it is not their place to delve into the personal religious communities of a nominee. It is expected that the Democrats will use their question and answer sessions to probe Barrett about her views on abortion, most specifically, her thoughts on Roe vs. Wade.
What both parties focused on today is a strong indicator of what the main topics of discussion will be moving forward the rest of the week.
What Comes Next: Monday was day one of the four-day hearing. Starting Tuesday, the 22 senators on the committee will get 30 minutes to question Barrett. After this initial round of questioning, all 22 senators will then be allowed another 20 minutes for follow-up. These rounds of questions will likely last through the evening on Tuesday and Wednesday.
This initial process is expected to wrap up on Thursday. At this time, it will be up to Graham to move to vote to approve the nomination and send the proceedings to the floor of the Senate. This phase represents the only chance that the Democrats have to stall the proceedings. Under the procedural rules, the Democrats are allowed to stall the vote for up to one week. Based on this timeline, it is likely that the confirmation will come to a vote in front of the committee on October 22 and to the Senate floor on October 29, just days before the November 3 election.
One thing is certain. It is sure to be a rocky few days on Capitol Hill as the questions become more personal and the discussions more intense.
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