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Amy Coney Barrett Steps Into Crucible of Confirmation Hearings

Voters will get their first intensive look at Judge Amy Coney Barrett in hearings that begin Monday and are all but certain to lead to President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee being placed on the high court just days before the election.

Her confirmation by the Republican-led Senate isn’t in doubt, barring a major bombshell during the four days of statements and questioning by the Judiciary Committee. Democrats will use the forum to prod the nominee on the Affordable Care Act and abortion rights, looking to make the proceedings part of their case to unseat Trump and retake the Senate on Nov. 3.

For Republicans, it’s a chance to cement a 6-3 conservative majority on the top U.S. court, potentially for decades. Yet it carries risks for a handful of GOP senators in close races for re-election.

Barrett, a 48-year-old appellate court judge, mother of seven, devout Catholic and former clerk to the late Justice Antonin Scalia, was Trump’s pick to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg and is the late liberal justice’s ideological opposite.

In her writings, Barrett has suggested a willingness to cast aside Supreme Court precedent, asserted that the Catholic Church’s teachings say abortion is “always immoral,” and criticized Chief Justice John Roberts for his rationale in the 2012 opinion that upheld core elements of the ACA, or Obamacare.

To the panel, though, Barrett is set to portray herself as a restrained jurist committed to ensuring her personal views don’t interfere with her rulings.

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“In every case, I have carefully considered the arguments presented by the parties, discussed the issues with my colleagues on the court and done my utmost to reach the result required by the law, whatever my own preferences might be,” she wrote in remarks prepared for Monday that were released Sunday by the White House.

Democrats haven’t been able to shake support for Barrett — or more generally, for the hasty replacement of Ginsburg — among GOP senators. Only two of the Senate’s 53 Republicans — Susan Collins of Maine, who’s up for re-election, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — objected to considering a new justice so close to the Election Day.

Judiciary panel Democrats say they’ll use various delaying tactics, but unless a few Republicans turn against her, they can’t stop the schedule set by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, or keep Barrett off the court.

Courts Transformed

Barrett would cap the conservative transformation of the U.S. court system during the Trump years, with the GOP-led Senate already having confirmed Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, along with 53 appellate court and 161 district court judges.

The hearings will be taking place with some members of the Judiciary participating remotely as a result of the spread of the coronavirus in Washington. Several people who were at the Sept. 26 White House event where Trump formally presented Barrett as his nominee later tested positive for the virus.

Democrats say their questioning will focus on the future of Obamacare, a key issue for American voters.

If Republicans follow through on their aggressive timetable, Barrett will be on the court to hear arguments a week after the election in a case that could undo the ACA, which provides health insurance for 20 million Americans and other benefits for millions more.

“That’s what is at stake with this Supreme Court appointment,” said Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democratic leader and a Judiciary panel member. “That’s why Republicans are determined and rushing to fill this seat.”

Obamacare Decision

Democrats say they’ll ask Barrett about a paper she wrote in 2017 that criticized Roberts’ reasoning in the decision that upheld Obamacare’s core. “Chief Justice Roberts pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute,” she wrote for the Notre Dame Law School journal.

Barrett also will face questions about whether she might overturn Supreme Court precedents in other areas, including the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a woman’s right to have an abortion.

She wrote in a 2013 law review article that judges shouldn’t necessarily be bound by precedent when considering whether to overturn major decisions that conflict with their view of the Constitution.

Democrats want to avoid the suggestion that their questioning makes Barrett’s faith an issue. A backlash followed Barrett’s 2017 Circuit Court confirmation hearing when Senator Dianne Feinstein suggested that the nominee’s religious “dogma” would guide her work as a judge.

At the time, Barrett said she agreed judges should follow what the law requires in deciding a case, not their own “personal convictions.”

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