Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett has said she cannot commit to recusing herself from any cases involving disputes that may arise from the US presidential election.
Ms Barrett told the Senate Judiciary Committee: “I can’t offer an opinion on recusal without short-circuiting that entire process.”
The judge said she had not spoken to President Donald Trump or anyone else in the administration about how she would handle any election-related challenges. And she said she would have to confer with the other justices on the court before deciding.
Ms Barrett is on Capitol Hill for a second day of hearings. The mood is likely to shift to a more confrontational tone as Ms Barrett, an appellate court judge with very little trial court experience, is grilled in 30-minute segments by Democrats strongly opposed to Mr Trump’s nominee. Republicans are rushing her to confirmation before polling day in the US election.
The committee chairman, Lindsey Graham, opened the session under coronavirus protocols with a focus on healthcare, and ending the Affordable Care Act.
Mr Graham also quickly asked if the Catholic judge would be able to shelve her personal beliefs to adhere to law.
“I can. I have done that,” she said. “I will do that still.”
Mr Graham praised her as a conservative woman of faith and the best possible nominee Mr Trump could have chosen.
“I will do everything I can to make sure that you have a seat at the table. And that table is the Supreme Court,” Mr Graham said.
The Senate, led by Mr Trump’s Republican allies, is pushing Ms Barrett’s nomination to a quick vote before November 3, and ahead of the the latest challenge to the “Obamacare” Affordable Care Act, which the Supreme Court is to hear a week after the election.
Republicans also hope to seat Ms Barrett quickly enough to hear any legal challenges after the election. Democrats are demanding that she pledge not to take part in any election case, but she has made no such commitment.
One of the two Republicans on the panel who tested positive for Covid-19, senator Thom Tillis, joined the committee for the first time on Tuesday, after ending quarantine.
Ms Barrett presented her approach to the law as conservative and fair on Monday at the start of fast-tracked confirmation hearings. Democrats cast her as a threat to Americans’ healthcare coverage during the coronavirus pandemic.
With her husband and six of their seven children behind her in a hearing room off-limits to the public and altered for Covid-19 risks, Ms Barrett delivered views at odds with the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the liberal icon whose seat Mr Trump nominated her to fill, laying out a judicial philosophy she has likened to that of her conservative mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
“Courts are not designed to solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life,” declared the 48-year-old federal appeals court judge, removing the protective mask she wore most of the day to read from a prepared statement.
Americans “deserve an independent Supreme Court that interprets our constitution and laws as they are written,” Ms Barrett told the committee.