Politics

Feinstein grills Barrett on Roe v. Wade at confirmation hearing

In response to questions from Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, on whether she agreed with the late Justice Antonin Scalia that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, Barrett invoked Justice Elena Kagan’s answer that she wasn’t going to grade precedent.

“I completely understand why you are asking the question, but again I can’t pre-commit, or say yes, I’m going in with some agenda, because I’m not. I don’t have any agenda,” Barrett said.

“It’s distressing not to get a straight answer,” Feinstein responded following a series of questions about the Supreme Court’s abortion rulings.

Barrett’s responses to Feinstein were the start of a long day of questioning where Democrats are likely to press Barrett on her views on a number of controversial topics the Supreme Court could take up, including abortion, gun rights, voting right and, in particular, health care.

The Supreme Court’s case on whether to strike down the Affordable Care Act is slated to be heard on November 10, which Barrett could hear if Republicans are successful in confirming her before the November 3 election.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham kicked off Tuesday’s hearing with a sustained attack on President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, seeking to preempt Democratic criticisms of Barrett’s nomination.

“From my point of view, Obamacare has been a disaster for the state of South Carolina,” Graham said. “We want something better. We want something different.”

Democratic and Republican lawmakers will have an opportunity on Tuesday to question Barrett during a lengthy second day of Senate hearings, where each senator on the committee will get 30 minutes to question the nominee.

Graham walked Barrett through her judicial philosophy in the opening round of questions. Barrett explained that she shared a philosophy with Scalia, whom she clerked for, but she argued she would not be an identical justice if she is confirmed.

“If I’m confirmed, you would not be getting Justice Scalia. You would be getting Justice Barrett,” Barrett said. “And that’s so because originalists don’t always agree.”

Graham asked Barrett whether she owned a gun, which she said she did.

“Do you think you could fairly decide a case even though you own a gun?” Graham asked.

“Yes,” she responded.

Partisan battle lines over Barrett’s nomination were quickly drawn on Monday during the first day of hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee as Democrats and Republicans offered up sharply divergent narratives of the high court fight to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

In opening statements delivered on Monday, Republican senators praised Barrett’s judicial qualifications in glowing terms and emphasized her capability as a working mom, while Democrats warned that health care protections and the Affordable Care Act are at stake, and under threat, in the nomination fight.

Democrats are expected to continue to keep the focus on what they argue is the threat her confirmation poses to health care, while Republicans are expected to defend the nominee and continue to argue that she is well-qualified to fill the high court vacancy.

Republicans, who hold the Senate majority, are moving quickly to fill the vacancy with their sights set on confirmation ahead of Election Day.

Democrats, in the minority, have limited options at their disposal to fight back. But they have been preparing a plan of attack that will focus squarely on issues they believe will resonate with voters while excoriating Republicans for rushing the nomination, an effort designed to avoid a spectacle that could damage their efforts to win back the Senate majority and the White House.

As part of that effort, Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have indicated they want to steer clear of questions about whether Barrett’s devout Catholic faith will impact her views, an issue that arose during her 2017 confirmation hearings to sit on a federal appeals court and prompted an uproar among Republicans.

Instead, Democrats want to focus on issues like defending the Affordable Care Act amid a pandemic and their argument that the winner of the November 3 election should select the nominee, a position that polls show clear majorities of voters support.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Sunday called on Barrett to commit to recusing herself from a fast-approaching case on the fate of the Affordable Care Act should she be confirmed to the Supreme Court, a plea the top Democrat in the upper chamber made one day before the start of the Judiciary committee hearings.

Democrats were united in keeping the focus on health care during Monday’s hearing — warning that Barrett’s confirmation stands to jeopardize health care access and protections, a central part of the strategy they have so far employed in fighting the nomination.

In opening statements Monday, Democrats stuck to a script that was crafted by members of leadership and Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden weeks ago, a message that Democrats hope will win political support at the polls even if it cannot keep Barrett off the bench.

One after another, Democrats framed the issue in personal terms, sharing concerns from constituents and, in some cases, opening up about their own health conditions.

In contrast, Republicans used their time during Monday’s hearings to highlight Barrett’s qualifications to be appointed to the high court.

Graham described Barrett on Monday as “in a category of excellence,” saying that she is “highly respected” and “widely admired for her integrity.”

Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who like Graham is up for reelection this cycle, told Barrett during the hearing that “folks with widely different judicial philosophies agree that you are brilliant, respectful, kind.”

This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.

CNN’s Lauren Fox, Manu Raju and Devan Cole contributed to this report.

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