The US Senate kicked off a four-day confirmation hearing of Trump nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, with Republican and Democratic lawmakers outlining their party positions on policy and their views on the fact that a hearing is taking place at all, this to Election Day on 3rd November.
Judge Barrett, whose records of judgements and statements pit her on the conservative side of the bench, was nominated by US President Donald Trump on 26th September as a replacement for liberal justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who died in September. The Court will have a 6-3 conservative-liberal split, possibly for decades; of the 48-year-old MS. Barrett is confirmed.
The hearings are taking place in the shadow of the corona virus pandemic; that has killed more than 215,000 people in the US. At the start of the hearing, Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham said the room had been set up to be complaint with CDC (Centre of Disease Control) regulations.
“The COVID problem in America is real, it’s serious, it’s dangerous,” Mr. Graham said striking a markedly different note from Mr. Trump and the White House whose nomination ceremony for Judge Barrett on 26th September; did not meet health safety standards; and likely resulted in a number of COVID cases including the first couple. Two Senate Judiciary Committee members had also tested positive for the corona virus; and some planned to participate in the week’s hearing virtually.
Mr. Graham, who had opposed Obama-nominee Merrick Garland in 2016 earlier on in the election cycle; and had said if a judicial opening occurs in the last year Mr. Trump’s term the Republicans would wait until after the elections to decide on a new candidate; sought to explain his volte-face in his opening remarks.
“The bottom line here is that the Senate is doing its duty constitutionally,” he said, acknowledging; that it was going to be a “long, contentious week.” Mr. Graham suggested his opposition to nominations in the final year of a Presidency only applied; when the President and Senate majorities were from different political parties.
Calling for a “respectful” but “challenging” hearing, he said, “Let’s remember the world is watching.”
Ranking Member (Democrat) Dianne Feinstein said Democrats too hoped to have a “very good hearing”. In her opening remarks, she said the Democrats would focus on the Affordable Care Act (ACA); an Obama-era healthcare policy establishing universal coverage; which the Trump administration is trying to overturn in court. The Supreme Court will hear the case in November.
“Most importantly, healthcare coverage for millions of Americans is at stake with this nomination,” Ms. Feinstein said. She also referred to Judge Barrett’s criticism of an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts; who had sided with the liberal judges in, thus far, upholding the ACA.