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Barrett vows to take cases 'as they come,' steadily fields Democrats' first day of questions

President Trump's Supreme Court nominee faced question on such issues as abortion, health care and election results.

Updated: October 13, 2020 - 11:57pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

During Tuesday's Supreme Court confirmation hearings, nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett said several times that she had made no promises to any member of the executive or legislative branch about how she would rule on specific policy issues, if confirmed at a Supreme Court justice.

Barrett for nearly 11 hours batted away skeptical questions from the 10 Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is holding four scheduled days of hearings before voting on whether to recommend she gets a full Senate vote.

President Trump's nominee for the high court faced questions on abortion, health care and a possible disputed-election fight over transferring presidential power, insisting she would bring no personal agenda to the court and decide cases “as they come.”

The 48-year-old appellate court judge declared her conservative views but avoided many specifics. She declined to say whether she would recuse herself from any election-related cases involving Trump, who nominated her to fill the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and is pressing to have her confirmed before the Nov. 3 election, according to the Associated Press.

Barrett invoked what is called "the Ginsburg rule of judicial independence," in reference to her refusal to speculate on what her judicial opinion may be on particular matters. 

The late Ginsburg famously said, "A judge sworn to decide impartially can offer no forecasts, no hints, for that would show not only disregard for the specifics of the particular case, it would display disdain for the entire judicial process."

Barrett and Republican Sens Chuck Grassley, Iowa, each touched on the "rule" during Tuesday's hearing, as the judge was repeatedly questioned about her view on hypothetical cases, specifically including her assessments of the Affordable Care Act and legal abortion.

"Judges can't just wake up one day and say, 'I have an agenda, I like guns, I hate guns, I like abortion, I hate abortion,' and walk in like a royal queen and impose their will on the world," she said. 

That response came in light of several questions, from various members of the committee, that posed situations in which Barrett would be deciding on a case having to do with abortion rights, gun control, and same-sex marriage, in addition to one case in particular about the ACA, which will be considered by the high court next month.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., began the day by saying that, in his view, Barrett's confirmation hearing is about the "young conservative women," watching the hearing and coming to understand there are places for them on the high court, just as there were for progressive young women who believed in the political and legal philosophies of the late Justice Ginsburg. 

Graham presented Barrett with a series of rapid-fire questions pertaining to her beliefs in constitutional law in an apparent effort to showcase the judge's competence and the Senate GOP's concentration on her qualifications. 

To close out his first round of questioning, the senator asked Barrett how she was feeling about her decision to accept the nomination to the highest court in the land from Trump. 

Barrett responded by speaking of her devotion to the law and the role that the Supreme Court plays in American life. 

"I'm aware of a lot of the caricatures that are floating around ... I've made distinct choices. I've decided to pursue a career and have a large family," Barrett said. 

She continued by talking about how her decision to accept the nomination has impacted her family. 

"Jesse and I had a very brief amount of time to make a decision with momentous consequences," Barrett said about her and her husband's decision.

"I'm committed to the rule of law and the role of the Supreme Court in dispensing equal justice for all. And I'm not the only person who could do this job, but I was asked ... if the difficulty is the only reason to say no, I should serve my country, and my family is all in on that," she concluded.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, questioned Barrett  about her views on cases pertaining to abortion rights and the continued constitutional question of some of the tenets of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

On Monday, the first day of the expected four-day Capitol Hill hearing, GOP members also made clear they are willing to counter-attack on any questions about Barrett's Catholic faith.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham has said he expects a committee vote by Oct. 22. If the GOP-led committee votes in favor of recommending Barrett to the high court, as expected, she would then face a full Senate vote, which she is also expected to pass. Republicans have 53 of the 100 Senate seats.