Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett batted away Democrats’ skeptical questions on abortion, health care and the transference of presidential power in a long and lively confirmation hearing on Tuesday.
The 48-year-old appellate court judge declared her conservative views with often colloquial language, but refused many specifics.
She declined to say whether she would recuse herself from any election-related cases involving President Donald Trump, who nominated her to fill the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and is pressing to have her confirmed before the November 3 election.
“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,” Ms Barrett told the Senate Judiciary Committee during its second day of hearings.
“It’s not the law of Amy,” she said. “It’s the law of the American people.”
Barrett returned to a Capitol Hill mostly locked down with Covid-19 protocols, the mood quickly shifting to a more confrontational tone from opening day.
She was grilled by Democrats strongly opposed to Mr Trump’s nominee yet unable to stop her. Excited by the prospect of a judge aligned with the late Antonin Scalia, Mr Trump’s Republican allies are rushing ahead to install a 6-3 conservative court majority for years to come.
“I think Amy’s doing incredibly well,” Mr Trump said at the White House before departing for a campaign rally.
The president has said he wants a justice seated for any disputes arising from his heated election with Democrat Joe Biden, but Ms Barret testified she has not spoken to Mr Trump or his team about election cases.
Pressed by panel Democrats, she skipped past questions about ensuring the date of the election or preventing voter intimidation, both set in federal law, and the peaceful transfer of presidential power.
She declined to commit to recusing herself from any post-election cases without first consulting the other justices.
“I can’t offer an opinion on recusal without short-circuiting that entire process,” she said.
A frustrated Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the panel, all but implored the nominee to be more specific about how she would handle landmark abortion cases, including Roe v. Wade and the follow-up Pennsylvania case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which confirmed it in large part.
“It’s distressing not to get a good answer,” Ms Feinstein told the judge.
Ms Barrett was unmoved. “I don’t have an agenda to try to overrule Casey,” she said. “I have an agenda to stick to the rule of law and decide cases as they come.”
She later declined to characterise the Roe v. Wade decision that legalised abortion as a “super-precedent” that must not be overturned.
Democrats had no such reticence.
“Let’s not make any mistake about it,” said California Senator Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, appearing remotely due to Covid-19 concerns.
Allowing Mr Trump to fill the seat with Ms Barrett “poses a threat to safe and legal abortion in our country,” Ms Harris said.
The Senate, led by Mr Trump’s Republican allies, is pushing Ms Barrett’s nomination ahead of the latest challenge to the “Obamacare” Affordable Care Act, which the Supreme Court is to hear a week after the election.
Democrats warn that she would be a vote to undo the law and strip health coverage from millions of Americans.
“I’m not hostile to the ACA,” Ms Barrett told the senators. “I’m not here on a mission to destroy the Affordable Care Act.”
The Indiana judge, accompanied by her family, described herself as taking a conservative, originalist approach to the Constitution.
A former law professor, she told the senators that while she admires Scalia, her conservative mentor for whom she once clerked, she would bring her own approach.
“You would not be getting Justice Scalia, you would be getting Justice Barrett,” she declared.
Barring a dramatic development, Republicans appear to have the votes to confirm Ms Barrett to a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court.
Other issues aside, Democrats are outraged that Republicans are moving so quickly, having refused to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee after Scalia’s death in February 2016, well before that year’s election.