Judge Amy Coney Barrett got her first shot to address questions live from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, the second day of the Trump appointee's Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge spent the hearing fielding questions on abortion, the Second Amendment, her view of the role of precedent and an upcoming case on the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Following the model set by previous nominees, Barrett largely refused to address specific cases. She declined to say whether the landmark abortion precedent Roe v. Wade should be overturned, despite repeated prodding from the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, and other members of the committee.
Barrett repeatedly assured senators that she had no agenda, but refused to say much more, declining even to address a question about whether President Donald Trump could delay the November election.
She refused to commit to recusing herself from potential cases on the upcoming election between Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden, but said she had made no deals with anyone in the executive branch.
Democrats, who recognize they are unlikely to be able to stop Barrett's nomination, have sought to highlight Supreme Court arguments scheduled for a week after Election Day on the constitutionality of Obamacare, and the prospect of a conservative court dooming the law.
Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic nominee for vice president and a member of the Judiciary Committee, quizzed Barrett about Obamacare for the bulk of her allotted time.
"I'm not here on a mission to destroy the Affordable Care Act," Barrett said during the hearing.
Barrett provided her most candid answers in response to personal questions.
Answering an inquiry from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the committee chairman, Barrett said the confirmation process has been "excruciating," but that she was "committed to the role of law and the role of the Supreme Court in dispensing equal justice for all."
The 48-year-old judge told Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., that she wept with her teenage daughter when she watched a video of the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody in May.
Tuesday's format all but guaranteed a long day. Each of the 22 senators on the committee — 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats — have half an hour for questions. Follow-ups will be permitted on Wednesday, and outside groups are expected to address the committee on Thursday.
Barrett is expected to be approved by the Judiciary Committee on Oct. 22. She is likely to be confirmed by the full Senate later in the month.
The hearings began at 9 a.m. ET and concluded around 8:15 p.m. ET. The top moments are below.
Graham, who opened the hearings noting that he is facing a reelection challenge in South Carolina, spent a good portion of his allocated question time asking Barrett about her view of the role of "stare decisis," a Latin phrase meaning "to stand by things decided."
The doctrine generally means that Supreme Court justices try not to overturn previous cases without good reasons. It has taken on a new significance given Democrats' worries that Barrett will push to overturn Roe v. Wade if she is confirmed.
Barrett told Graham that she will not be able to march into the Supreme Court and immediately overturn Roe, or other cases.
"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," Barrett said.
Later, pressed by Feinstein on whether she agreed with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom Barrett clerked, who said that the court's abortion precedents should be overturned, Barrett refused to answer at least three times.
"Whether I say I love it or I hate it, it signals to litigants that I may tilt one way or another in a pending case," Barrett said.
Barrett got her first opportunity to speak about the personal challenges of the confirmation process in response to a question from Graham about why she accepted Trump's nomination.
"This is a really difficult, some might say excruciating process," Barrett said. "We knew that our lives would be combed over for any negative detail, we knew our faith would be caricatured, we knew our family would be attacked."
"What sane person would go through with that if there wasn't a benefit on the other slide?" she asked.
"The benefit I think is I'm committed to the role of law and the role of the Supreme Court in dispensing equal justice for all," she said. "I am not the only person who could do this job, but I was asked, and it would be difficult for anyone."
"My family is all in on that because they share my belief in the rule of law," Barrett said.
In response to a question from Feinstein about whether Trump could lawfully delay the Nov. 3 election, Barrett said she couldn't answer without becoming essentially a "legal pundit."
"Senator, if that question ever came before me, I would need to hear arguments from the litigants, and read briefs, and consult with my law clerks, and talk to my colleagues, and go through the opinion writing process," Barrett told Feinstein.
"If I gave off-the-cuff answers I would be basically a legal pundit and I don't think we want judges to be legal pundits, I think we want judges to approach cases thoughtfully and with an open mind," she added.
Trump, who is behind in national and state polls against Biden, has pushed for a delay to the election, arguing without evidence that mail-in voting is vulnerable to mass fraud. The Constitution provides Congress with the power to set the date of the presidential election.
Trump has suggested that his nominees to the top court would dismantle Obamacare, and said they would overturn Roe v. Wade. Barrett said that she has not discussed any cases with members of the executive branch, including the president, and has made no deals.
"No one ever talked about any case with me, no one on the executive branch side of it," Barrett said in response to questioning from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
"Just as I didn't make any commitments and was not asked to make any commitments on the executive branch side, I can not make any commitments to this body either," she said.
Barrett specifically addressed the Nov. 10 case on Obamacare, emphasizing that she had made no guarantee to strike it down.
"Absolutely not," she said. "I was never asked, and if I had been that would have been a short conversation."
She said that her past critiques of Supreme Court decisions upholding the ACA had no bearing on the legal questions at issue in the upcoming case, and that she wasn't hostile to the law.
Barrett also refused to commit to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., that she would recuse herself from any election disputes arising from the November election.
"He's counting on you to deliver him the election," Leahy told her, referring to the president.
Barrett said that under the Supreme Court's rules, recusal decisions are made in consultation with the full court.
"While it is always the decision of an individual justice, it always happens with the consultation of the full court. So I cannot offer an opinion on recusal without short circuiting that whole process," she said.
Barrett later told Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., that she would consider the appearance of bias when making a decision about whether to recuse.
"I certainly hope that all members of the committee have more confidence in my integrity than to think that I would allow myself to be used as a pawn to decide this election for the American people," Barrett said. "So that would be on the question of actual bias."
"And you asked about the appearance of bias," she added. "And you're right that the statute does require a justice or judge to recuse when there is an appearance of bias. And what I will commit to every member of this committee, to the rest of the Senate, and to the American people, is that I will consider all factors that are relevant to that question."
Sen. Dick Durbin. D-Ill., asked Barrett whether she had watched the video of the death of George Floyd, a Black man whose killing in Minneapolis police custody earlier this year spawned months of protests against state violence against African Americans.
Barrett said that she had seen the video and that it affected her deeply, citing her two Black children.
She said she and her teenage daughter Vivian, whom she adopted from Haiti, "wept together in my room."
"My children, to this point in their lives, have had the benefit of growing up in a cocoon where they have not experienced hatred or violence," Barrett said.