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Senate Begins Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings


And that was all before we heard from Judge Barrett herself. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg has been following all of this today, and she joins us now. Hey, Nina.


CHANG: All right. So when the committee finally got to Judge Barrett today, what did she have to say?

TOTENBERG: Basically, she reiterated what she said at her - when her nomination was announced in the Rose Garden, namely that she shares the judicial philosophy of the justice she once clerked for, the conservative icon, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.


AMY CONEY BARRETT: Courts have a vital responsibility to the rule of law, which is critical to a free society. But courts are not designed to solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life. The policy decisions and value judgments of government must be made by the political branches elected by and accountable to the people. The public should not expect courts to do so and courts should not try.

TOTENBERG: Of course, we're going to hear a lot more about this in the coming days because one person's policy choice is another person's unconstitutional law, Ailsa.

CHANG: Exactly. So given today, what jumped out at you most?

TOTENBERG: Well, the Republicans stressed, I think each one of them, that the Democrats were launching an attack on Barrett's religious faith. So here, for instance, is Missouri Republican Josh Hawley.


JOSH HAWLEY: Let's be clear about what this is. This is an attempt to broach a new frontier, to set up a new standard. Actually, it's an attempt to bring back an old standard that the Constitution of the United States explicitly forbids. I'm talking about a religious test for office.

CHANG: That's right. Democrats were trying to be careful today about not sounding critical of Judge Barrett's religion. How did they address her Catholic faith today?

TOTENBERG: They didn't at all. Instead, they basically said three things. The first was that the whole process of this confirmation was unprecedented and an exercise in hypocrisy that contradicted the principle that Republican leader Mitch McConnell laid down four years ago when Obama was president, namely that no Supreme Court nominee should be considered in an election year. The second point they wanted to get across was Obamacare and how Barrett could be the deciding vote to strike down the law, which is being challenged in the Supreme Court for the third time the week after the election. And the third point was that the Senate should be passing a COVID relief bill instead of this. Here, for instance, is Democrat Amy Klobuchar.


AMY KLOBUCHAR: So the reason people aren't going to fall for this is because it is so personal, the over 210,000 people who have died, the school canceled, the small business closed, the job you don't have, the degree you couldn't get. It's personal to me because my husband got COVID early on. He ended up in the hospital for a week on oxygen with severe pneumonia. And months after he got it, I find out the president knew it was airborne, but he didn't tell us. We were cleaning off every surface in our house, and my husband got it anyway. We didn't know.

TOTENBERG: And the Democrats displayed, I would say, for them anyway, an unusual tendency of discipline. They all had these huge photos of their constituents who they said are terrified of losing their coverage under Obamacare, especially during this pandemic.

CHANG: And of course, speaking of Democrats, Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, is on the Judiciary Committee. She chose to participate remotely today. Can you talk about what about her statement stood out?

TOTENBERG: I wouldn't say much, except that she talked more to the camera than to the nominee. Her presence allowed Republicans to charge that Biden and Harris want to pack the court, expand the number of justices on the court. Now, either - neither of the Democratic candidates has embraced any court-packing proposal, but they also have refused to answer questions about these proposals, probably because they don't want to alienate the left wing of the party, some of whom are floating these proposals.

CHANG: That is NPR's Nina Totenberg. Thank you, Nina.

TOTENBERG: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.