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Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court confirmation hearings: Highlights from Day 1

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings will last through Thursday.
Image: Judge Amy Coney Barrett will attend Supreme Court confirmation hearings before the Senate on Monday and Tuesday.
Judge Amy Coney Barrett will attend Supreme Court confirmation hearings before the Senate on Monday and Tuesday.Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday began its first day of confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee.

The hearings will last through Thursday.

Barrett's confirmation would cement conservative control of the nation's highest court, giving them a 6-3 advantage. Democrats have acknowledged there's little they can do to prevent her ascent, which Republicans are rushing to push through before the election, but they still plan to grill Barrett on several key issues, including abortion and Obamacare, as well as information that she initially failed to disclose in her Senate questionnaire.

This live coverage has ended. Read continuing coverage of Barret's second day of confirmation hearings here.

Read the latest updates below:

Cornyn: 'There's no religious test to serve on the Supreme Court'

668d ago / 2:02 PM UTC

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, suggested that Barrett's Catholicism should not be an issue in her confirmation and that judges should not be "unelected super legislators." 

"Democrats on and off the committee want a real fight," he said in his opening statement. "Let me be clear, judge, as you know, there's no religious test to serve on the Supreme Court. Why? Because the Constitution says so." 

"You and I both know that judges should not be policymakers," he said. "But could it be that one of the reasons these confirmation hearings have become so contentious is because some Americans have given up on the idea of fair and impartial judges who do not pick winners and losers, that they've given up on an independent judiciary? I hope not. Judges should not be unelected super legislators giving their political allies wins they could not secure through the rough and tumble of the political process."

Leahy says Senate shouldn't be pursuing confirmation three weeks before the election

668d ago / 1:57 PM UTC

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee who has served in the Senate through 20 Supreme Court nominations, said the Senate should not be holding a confirmation process three weeks before Election Day. 

“We should not be holding a hearing three weeks from an election, when millions of Americans have already voted," said Leahy, who said that Republicans are also going back on their words from 2016, "contradicting every argument they made about the American people needing a voice."

Leahy, who appeared virtually because of concerns about safety precautions, also said the committee should not be holding the hearings "when it is plainly unsafe to do so," after two members are now emerging from isolation after contracting Covid-19. 

Like other Democrats, Leahy held up a photo of a constituent, a woman who was in a wheelchair because of a rare disease and relies on the Affordable Care Act. He said, "I think of what she's going to lose," if Barrett votes to dismantle the law. 

Grassley defends Barrett's legal background, calls Democratic attacks 'outrageous'

668d ago / 1:42 PM UTC

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, defended Barrett's credentials and legal background in his opening statement. 

"A good judge understands it's not the court's place to rewrite the law as it sees fit. It's not his or her place to let policy, personal or moral principles dictate an outcome of a case," he said. 

He called it "outrageous" that Democrats are suggesting Barrett's confirmation would lead to the demise of the Affordable Care Act and protections for pre-existing conditions. "As a mother of seven, Judge Barrett clearly understands the importance of health care," he said. 

"The nominee should offer no forecast, no hints of how he or she will vote, because that's the role of a judge. That's the place of a judge in our system of government: unbiased, fiercely independent, faithful to the rule of law and a steadfast defender of the Constitution," he said.

'The stakes are extraordinarily high': Feinstein says she wants Barrett to clarify her position on Obamacare

668d ago / 1:27 PM UTC

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, said in her opening statement that she hopes Barrett will clarify her position on the Affordable Care Act during the hearings. 

"The stakes are extraordinarily high for the American people," as millions could lose their health care coverage, Feinstein said. Democrats plan to focus on what could happen to Obamacare if Barrett is confirmed since the Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in a case to strike down the health care law in a few weeks on Nov. 10, she said. 

"The president has promised to appoint justices who will vote to dismantle that law," Feinstein said. 

Feinstein said she hopes Barrett clarifies her stance on the ACA since she was critical of Chief Justice John Roberts' previous 5-4 opinion upholding the law. 

Graham on timing of Barrett confirmation: 'There's nothing unconstitutional about this'

668d ago / 1:18 PM UTC

Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., made the case in his opening statement for the Senate to confirm Barrett to the Supreme Court. 

He pointed out that the late Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, although ideological opposites, were both confirmed overwhelmingly to their seats by the Senate. 

"I don't know what happened between then and now," said Graham, who said there was once a time when someone like Ginsburg was seen by almost everyone as qualified to serve on the Supreme Court, despite having a different philosophy than many Republicans who voted for her.  

Graham touted Barrett's credentials, saying that she is in "a category of excellence."

He acknowledged that no Supreme Court justice has been confirmed in an election year past July, but he said Ginsburg was asked about the timing issue several years ago and she said a president serves for four years, not three. 

"There's nothing unconstitutional about this," he said. 

668d ago / 1:13 PM UTC

Sen. Mike Lee, who recently tested positive for Covid-19, attends the hearing in person

668d ago / 1:06 PM UTC
Image:
Sen. Mike Lee., R-Utah, arrives for the confirmation hearing of Amy Coney Barrett before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Oct. 12, 2020.Win McNamee / AP

After it was unclear whether Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, would participate in the hearing in person on Monday, the senator arrived just before 9 a.m. ET, wearing a face mask. 

"I feel great," Lee said as he entered the room. 

Lee, who said earlier this month that he tested positive for Covid-19 on Oct. 1, did not respond when asked if he was tested Monday.

Schumer outlines Democrats' strategy for Barrett hearing Monday

668d ago / 1:04 PM UTC

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Monday that Democrats on the Judiciary Committee plan to focus on two things Monday: how Barrett could overturn the Affordable Care Act and what he said was the hypocrisy of Republicans for confirming a Supreme Court nominee right before an election. 

"We're going to focus on the issues, whether it be women's reproductive rights, the rights of labor, climate change, and above all of health care," he said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "We're going to show the American people how damaging this nominee, who said proudly, I guess, that she would follow Antonin Scalia, whose philosophy would turn the clock back 100 years."

Democrats, he said, plan to tell stories of people from their own states or other states to show how Supreme Court decisions could affect Americans' lives. 

Regarding speculation that Democrats would expand the Supreme Court if they win the presidency and take back the Senate, Schumer said he doesn't want to discuss that scenario now, but said "everything will be on the table" if that happens. 

Witness table set for Barrett

668d ago / 12:39 PM UTC
Image: Senate Holds Confirmation Hearing For Amy Coney Barrett To Be Supreme Court Justice
The witness table is set for Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Oct. 12, 2020.Alex Edelman / Pool via Getty Images

Several senators in both parties expected to participate virtually because of Covid-19

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669d ago / 10:51 AM UTC

Several senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee are planning to attend the Barrett hearings virtually because they have either tested positive for Covid-19 or they are concerned they could be infected by others. 

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who recently tested positive for Covid-19, remains in quarantine and will appear virtually at least for the first day Monday. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, tested positive for the disease recently and his office said his doctor would tell him Monday morning whether it would be safe for him to attend in person. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has tested negative for Covid-19, but remains in isolation because of his contact with an infected person, and would appear virtually on Monday. 

Most of the other Republicans are expected to appear in person. 

As for Democrats on the committee, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., the 2020 Democratic vice presidential nominee, plans to attend virtually from her Senate office because of concerns about the lack of safety precautions. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., will appear virtually because he's nervous the GOP chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, wasn't tested ahead of the hearings. 

Some Democrats will appear in person and it was unclear whether others also planned to participate remotely. 

Barrett to tell senators that courts are 'not designed to solve every problem'

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669d ago / 10:12 AM UTC

Barrett will tell the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday that serving on the Supreme Court "was not a position I had sought out, and I thought carefully before accepting," according to a copy of her opening statement obtained by NBC News.

Barrett does not mention her conservatism or her religious views in the four-page statement, and will instead tell senators that courts are "not designed to solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life."

"Courts have a vital responsibility to enforce the rule of law, which is critical to a free society," Barrett will say, after discussing her experience clerking for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Read more about this week's hearings and see her full opening statement.

669d ago / 10:11 AM UTC

The stakes are high in the Senate this week

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669d ago / 10:10 AM UTC

The stakes are high for both sides during Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation hearings this week.

Barrett's confirmation would cement conservative control of the nation's highest court, giving them a 6-3 advantage. At 48-years-old, Barrett would become the youngest member of the court and would potentially be able to serve for decades.

A devout Catholic, Barrett has the backing of evangelicals who consider her a likely vote to overturn the Roe v. Wade abortion decision. Democrats have said she's also likely to side against the Affordable Care Act. The high court is scheduled to hear that case on Nov. 10th.

Republicans don't have much margin for error. Two Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, have said they wouldn't vote for any nominee given the proximity to the presidential election.

That leaves Republicans with 51 votes — just enough to confirm Barrett, barring defections or illness. If there's a 50-50 tie, Vice President Mike Pence could break it.

Read more on what to expect from this week's hearings.