Senate Judiciary Committee members loosened up a bit on the third day of Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett, trading barbs that were mostly of the good-natured sort.
Questions spanned everything from health care to the Houston Astros, and at least one lawmaker sought advice from Barrett for her own daughter.
As for the nominee herself, it was Barrett’s last day before the panel — and nevertheless, she evaded, even as her path to confirmation appeared smooth and certain.
‘If’ becomes ‘when’ for Democrats
Barrett answered, or sidestepped, perhaps the last congressional questions of her life as even Democrats acknowledged that her confirmation was all but certain.
On Monday, Sen. Cory Booker held out hope that Democrats could sway a vote or two.
“If one of my colleagues will stand up on this committee, we can hold this over until after an election. If two of my colleagues on the Senate floor agree with their other two colleagues, Republicans, we can stop this,” the New Jersey Democrat pleaded on the opening day of hearings.
But Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse showed the Democrats’ true hand Wednesday, referring repeatedly to “when,” not “if,” Barrett sits on the court.
Whitehouse asked Barrett to help lawmakers improve the ethical restrictions on Supreme Court justices. He pointed out they are subject to less stringent disclosure standards than lower court judges or even members of Congress and are not required to adhere to a code of ethics, which was news to Barrett.
“I’m surprised,” Barrett said, marveling that she did not know Supreme Court justices were held to a more lax standard.
“Take a look at that when you get up there,” Whitehouse suggested.
Presidential obedience in question
Barrett stated Wednesday morning that “no one is above the law” — but she warned lawmakers that the Supreme Court has no real recourse to make sure anyone, including the president, obeys its orders.
“Courts have neither force nor will — in other words, we can’t do anything to enforce our own judgments,” she said. “As a matter of law, the Supreme Court may have the final word. The Supreme Court lacks control about what happens after that.”
Vermont Democrat Patrick J. Leahy had asked Barrett whether a president could refuse to comply with a court order. Barrett’s assessment, in a word, was yes.
“The Supreme Court can’t control what the president obeys,” she said flatly.
Plea for video
Iowa Republican and former Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley raised an issue that he and other transparency advocates have pushed for more than a decade: whether cameras should be allowed into the Supreme Court.
The 87-year-old acknowledged he probably wouldn’t live long enough to see it happen. But he was undeterred.
“If confirmed, would you keep an open mind about allowing cameras in the Supreme Court?” he asked.
“I would certainly keep an open mind about allowing cameras in the Supreme Court,” Barrett said.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where Barrett currently sits, adopted procedures to allow requests for video recording of oral arguments, as well as public release of the recordings.
Grassley’s push for cameras and Barrett’s open mind likely won’t shift the norms on the court. Other justices have testified that they are open to the idea, but once seated on the court, they stick with the no-camera precedent.
Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham kicked off the third day of hearings with an effusive defense of Barrett’s personal views and lauded her as a role model for conservative women in American life.
“This hearing, to me, is an opportunity to not punch through a glass ceiling, but a reinforced concrete barrier around conservative women. You’re going to shatter that. I have never been more proud of the nominee than I am of you,” the South Carolina Republican said.
Conservatives of color and conservative women, Graham said, are among the most marginalized groups in America.
“There’s an effort by some in the liberal world to marginalize the contribution because you come out on a different side of an issue, particularly abortion,” Graham told Barrett, whose conservative bona fides have long been established.
The nomination to the Supreme Court of the first woman who is “unashamedly pro-life and embraces her faith without apology” was groundbreaking, he added. “And it will be a great signal to all young women who want to, who share your view of the world, that there’s a seat at the table for them.”
Iowa Republican Joni Ernst brought up her daughter, Libby, a prelaw student who is dissecting some of Barrett’s legal writings, and asked Barrett for words of encouragement.
“I think I would say to be confident, to see what she wants. To have a plan,” Barrett offered.
The nominee continued with advice she said she had given to her own daughters.
“You shouldn’t let life just happen to you or sweep you along. You should identify what your objectives are and identify the kind of person that you want to be, and then make deliberate decisions to make that happen.”
Texas trash talk
With the Houston Astros getting outplayed by the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Championship Series, it was a Nebraska Republican taking shots at the controversial Texas team.
Sen. Ben Sasse announced that he wanted to shift the conversation from “constitutional structure to baseball for a minute.”
He spent a significant portion of his time exploring an extended baseball metaphor and some trash talk, despite the nominee expressing limited interest in the sport when asked at the start.
Sasse launched into a rebuke of the Astros, calling the 2017 World Series champions “miserable cheaters” because, he said, “they steal signs.”
“They’ve done a whole bunch of miserable things historically, and they deserve to be punished probably more than they had been,” Sasse said.
He acknowledged that both Texans in the Senate, Republicans John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, also sit on the Judiciary panel and may have differing views.
Cornyn interjected, “Thank goodness the First Amendment protects that erroneous opinion.”
Cruz then said that he was tempted to make a parliamentary inquiry in the “unjustified broadside from the senator from Nebraska” and whether it violated Senate Rule 19.
“I decided not to when I came to the realization that Nebraska lacks a professional baseball team,” Cruz said, describing the attack as a “cry for help” while criticizing the University of Nebraska’s football team.