Amy Coney Barrett, Donald Trump’s third Supreme Court nominee, defended her personal life on Tuesday as she dodged US senators’ questions about how her views on abortion, healthcare and gun rights could influence her decisions.
On the second day of Senate confirmation hearings, Ms Barrett argued that her Catholic faith had been “caricatured” in the media and said she had never imposed her personal life choices on others.
“I’ve made distinct choices. I’ve decided to pursue a career and have a large family. I have a multiracial family, our faith is important to us. All of those things are true, but they are my choices,” she told the Senate judiciary committee.
“I’ve never tried in my personal life to impose my choices on [others]. And the same is true professionally,” she added.
Ms Barrett, who is set to tilt the Supreme Court further to the right if confirmed as expected, is a devout Catholic and mother of seven who has in the past expressed a traditional view of marriage and opposition to abortion.
Like other high court nominees before her, she declined to give substantive answers to questions about legal issues, including the right to abortion. But she sought to reassure the committee that she had no “agenda”.
Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, pressed Ms Barrett on whether she agreed with the view of the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia that Roe v Wade, which enshrined the right to an abortion, was wrongly decided.
Ms Barrett, a federal appellate judge who clerked for Scalia at the outset of her legal career, has said that she shared his judicial philosophy of adhering to the original text and meaning of the Constitution.
“I don’t have any agenda, I have no agenda to try to overrule Casey, I have an agenda to stick to the rule of law,” she said, referring to a later Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v Casey, that affirmed abortion rights.
“If I were confirmed, you would be getting Justice Barrett, not Justice Scalia,” she added. “I don’t think that anybody should assume that just because Justice Scalia decided a decision, a certain way, that I would too.”
Republicans control a majority in the Senate and are moving to confirm Ms Barrett before the November 3 election. If they succeed, she could rule on any litigation that reaches the high court regarding the vote.
When asked by Ms Feinstein about whether Mr Trump could delay the election, an idea he raised earlier this year, Ms Barrett demurred: “If I give off-the-cuff answers, then I would be basically a legal pundit. And I don’t think we want judges to be legal pundits”
Lindsey Graham, the Republican Senate judiciary committee chairman, has scheduled a first committee vote for Thursday on whether to send her nomination to the full Senate.
Ms Barrett’s confirmation would give the Supreme Court a 6-3 majority of Republican-appointed justices, and open the door for more far-reaching changes to US law on gun rights, corporate regulation and abortion.
Democrats have sought in the confirmation hearings to focus attention on healthcare, with less than a month to go before the election. On November 10, the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in another challenge to the Affordable Care Act — also known as Obamacare — which it has previously upheld by a narrow majority.
On Tuesday, Ms Barrett downplayed her past criticisms of the Supreme Court’s decisions to uphold Obamacare and noted that the legal questions at present before the court were different.
In the latest case, the Supreme Court is set to decide whether the individual mandate, which forced Americans to buy health insurance or pay a fine, is still constitutional after Congress zeroed out the penalty and, if not, whether the mandate can be severed from the rest of the law.
“The issue in the case is this doctrine of severability, and that’s not something that I’ve ever talked about with respect to the Affordable Care Act, honestly, I haven’t written anything about severability that I know of at all,” Ms Barrett said.
“So you have no thoughts on the subject?” Ms Feinstein asked.
“Well, it’s a case that’s on the court’s docket and the canons of judicial conduct, you know, would prohibit me from expressing a view,” she replied.