Amy Coney Barrett’s Confirmation Hearings Were a Master Class in Political Posturing
“I think it’s good for the country to have this,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.) on Monday, the first day of Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing. “I doubt it’s going to change any minds in terms of how we vote. But I like the idea that a lifetime nominee to the Supreme Court can be challenged, can be tested, and can be understood by the public.”
As the fourth and final session came to a close Thursday, it was hard to believe that the Senate Judiciary Committee met those standards in the way Graham intended.
Barrett was challenged, yes, but mostly by Democrats who pushed her to stake out positions on political questions and feigned outrage when she responded that a good judge does not make decisions based on her own opinions: “My personal views don’t have anything to do with how I would decide cases,” she said. Even so, Barrett’s patience was almost certainly tested by a series of lectures from Democrats on her purported views and by monologues from Republicans on why Democrats are bad.
After a week of hearings, it’s very unlikely that the public understands Barrett better now than they did on Monday, considering that the committee spent more time posturing than probing the judge’s judicial philosophy. Grandstanding may be an effective political strategy, but it didn’t tell us anything useful or significant about Barrett, and it won’t affect the outcome of her confirmation vote.
The format for the hearings went something like this: Several Democrats began their allotted time slots, reserved for questioning the nominee, with complaints of procedural unfairness, invoking the COVID-19 pandemic and harkening back to the GOP’s unwillingness to confirm Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court during former President Barack Obama’s last year in office. The word “unprecedented” was thrown around a lot.
Senators would typically then transition into a speech—emphasis on speech, it was often question-free—about politically-charged issues to which they posit Barrett is a threat: the Affordable Care Act, abortion, same-sex marriage, immigration, and climate change. On day three, we actually heard some questions, but they usually pertained to how Barrett feels about hot-button political topics and corresponding legal precedents—questions that would be unprofessional and unwise to answer given that her feelings are irrelevant. Good jurists should cast aside personal policy preferences when scrutinizing the law, a point Barrett reminded the committee of repeatedly.
Here’s a representative exchange from Wednesday on Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide:
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D–Conn.): Think of how you would feel as a gay or lesbian American, to hear that you can’t answer whether the government can make it a crime for them to have that rel
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