Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings are set to enter into their next phase on Tuesday, with the 48-year-old nominee due to answer questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee in person for the first time since her nomination last month.
Barrett is expected to take questions about her past statements on abortion and the role of precedent, her views on an upcoming case over the Affordable Care Act and whether she will recuse herself from litigation stemming from the upcoming election between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.
The 22 senators on the committee, including 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats, will each get 30 minutes to ask Barrett questions, setting up what is likely to be a long day of testimony. Senators will get another chance to ask questions on Wednesday, and the hearings will conclude on Thursday.
While the process is unlikely to affect whether Barrett is confirmed — she is expected to have support from a majority of both the committee and the full Senate — it will provide a political spotlight for several senators hoping to make a splash.
Chief among them is committee chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is in an unexpectedly tight race for reelection in South Carolina against the well-funded Democrat Jaime Harrison.
Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee who has gone viral grilling Trump administration officials from her perch on the committee, will also be closely watched.
“This is going to be a long, contentious week,” Graham said on Monday, the first day of Barrett’s hearings. “I would just ask one thing of the committee. To the extent possible, let’s make it respectful, let’s make it challenging, let’s remember, the world is watching.”
Harris, who appeared remotely, later blasted Graham for holding the hearings in spite of the spreading Covid-19 pandemic and ahead of the election, accusing Republicans of “trying to bypass the will of the voters and have the Supreme Court do their dirty work.”
Tuesday’s hearing comes just three weeks before Election Day, and the battle between Trump and Biden will hang over the proceedings.
Trump nominated Barrett to the Supreme Court last month after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. If Barrett is confirmed, she will give the top court a 6-3 conservative majority, providing Republicans a legal advantage for the foreseeable future.
Barrett clerked for the late Justice Antonin Scalia early in her career and has said she shares the conservative judge’s ideology. In her opening statement delivered on Monday, she emphasized that she does not believe it is the responsibility of judges to impose their own moral values on the law.
The dividing lines between the two parties were made clear on the first day of hearings, with Democrats focused on Barrett’s views on an upcoming battle over the Affordable Care Act and Republicans eager to discuss her sterling legal credentials and sprawling family, including seven children.
The top court will consider a challenge to the health-care law, known as Obamacare, on Nov. 10.
The Trump administration has asked the justices to scrap the legislation. With little chance at derailing the confirmation proceedings entirely, Democrats have sought to turn the confirmation battle into a referendum on the law, which millions of Americans rely on for their health-care coverage.
Republicans, on the other hand, appear to be looking for a fight over Barrett’s Catholicism, which animated the 2017 hearings over Barrett’s nomination to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
At the time, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee’s top Democrat, angered those on the right when she told Barrett that she was concerned that the “dogma lives loudly within you.” Barrett responded that her faith would not influence her work as a judge.
That exchange made Barrett something of a hero to social conservatives and prompted criticism of Democrats for what some saw as imposing a religious test.
On Monday, Democrats steered clear of addressing Barrett’s religion, though that may prove more difficult on Tuesday as the questions turn to Barrett’s past statements on abortion. Barrett, who belonged to Notre Dame Law School’s “Faculty for Life” chapter, is supported by anti-abortion groups.
At the first presidential debate, Trump suggested that Barrett’s views on the Supreme Court’s abortion precedents were unknown, though shortly afterward it surfaced that she had signed onto a 2006 newspaper ad calling for Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion decision, to be overturned.
Another topic that Democratic senators are likely to seize on is Barrett’s potential role in litigation related to the upcoming presidential election. Trump has repeatedly said that he wants Barrett confirmed in time to weigh in on any cases that arise and has stated without providing evidence that there will be massive voter fraud.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told Barrett on Monday that her participation in an election case “would immediately do explosive, enduring harm to the court’s legitimacy and to your own credibility.”
“You must recuse yourself,” Blumenthal said.
It would be unusual for a justice to recuse herself from a case because it concerns the president who nominated her.
Republicans are expected to ask lighter questions of the judge. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said on Monday that he had been hearing from constituents who wanted to know about Barrett’s personal life.
“They want to know how you do it,” Cornyn said. “How do you and your husband manage two professional careers and still take care of your large family?”