Cross-posted from our joint Raising Women’s Voices campaign
This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee concluded its rushed consideration of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, with a committee vote scheduled for next week. Barrett's refusal to answer even straightforward, factual questions about the law led to little drama but lots of disturbing insight, even as more and more of her shocking judicial record emerged into public view. The hearings proved that Barrett may be smarter and smoother than the president who nominated her, but she is every bit as Trumpy in her dishonesty and flirtations with authoritarianism.
Barrett Hides Record, Won't Condemn Illegal Attacks on Democracy
For example, Barrett refused to say whether or not the president has the legal authority to delay the election, even though there is no ambiguity in the text. As Dana Milbank noted in the Washington Post, “By the plain wording of the Constitution and the law, a president cannot unilaterally postpone an election. But this nominee, sounding more Trumpist than textualist, tells us it’s debatable.”
Barrett also refused to answer, “Under federal law, is it illegal to intimidate voters at the poll?” It is. And she refused to say what she would do if Donald Trump won’t cede power peacefully after losing the election. She also refused to give her views on poll taxes, climate change, family separations, abortion, birth control coverage, the Affordable Care Act, and much more. (See a partial list of news coverage of Barrett’s evasiveness here.)
Perhaps the most telling moment, in the words of University of Colorado law professor Aya Gruber, was “when Amy Coney Barrett held up that blank white sheet of paper; it was very symbolic, because it seemed to me that she had decided coming into those hearings that she was going to provide no information on the questions that I think people really have a right to know about before a person is seated on the Supreme Court for life.”
While Democrats tried to raise the real-world dangers of Barrett’s position — for the sanctity of our elections, for people with pre-existing conditions, for public health and the environment, for efforts to control gun violence, for victims of corporate malfeasance — the judge and her Republican allies sought to make the hearing an academic discussion of legal theory stripped of any meaning. Legal analyst Dahlia Lithwick cut through the obfuscations to the heart of the matter: “all this moral equivocation has led us to the place in which casual claims about shooting protesters with rubber bullets, assaulting members of the press, and kidnapping and trying a sitting governor are received as other cool constitutional ideas to be entertained with an open mind. The president’s Overton window has been leaking noxious tyrannical ideas for four years now. The refusal to publicly and definitely quash them under the guise of neutrality isn’t actually a neutral act.”
But even as the committee was plunging ahead in normalizing the deeply abnormal, example after example trickled in of Barrett’s attempts to hide her past actions and true judicial philosophy. CNN reported that Barrett is “required to disclose to the Senate Judiciary Committee all public talks she has given in her professional career” yet internet archives show multiple “talks not listed on [her] Senate paperwork,” including with anti-abortion groups.
Barrett also failed to initially disclose that she had signed an anti-abortion ad calling Roe v Wade “barbaric” that was sponsored by an extremist organization near her home. Asked this month about the organization’s views, its executive director stated bluntly, “We support the criminalization of the doctors who perform abortions. At this point we are not supportive of criminalizing the women. [emphasis ours] We would be supportive of criminalizing the discarding of frozen embryos or selective reduction through the IVF process.”
CNN drily noted, “Past chairmen of the powerful committee have halted the nomination process after judicial nominees omitted information in their Senate paperwork but under committee Chairman Lindsey Graham that scenario is unlikely.”
Meanwhile, the broader public got its first small glimpse of Barrett’s deeply disturbing judicial record. Just last year, for example, Barrett wrote that calling an employee the n-word does not, on its own, create a hostile work environment. And her past decisions have indicated a view of gun rights so broad that they would unwind red flag laws and background checks. As with Kavanaugh, Republicans appear intent on rushing her confirmation through before any more damaging information can come to light.
Unfortunately, the most surreal moment of the week came when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the lead Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, bizarrely (and unironically) praised Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the committee chairman responsible for rushing through the nomination at break-neck speed. Before the hearings, reporters had raised concerns that Feinstein, 87, “sometimes gets confused by reporters’ questions, or will offer different answers to the same question depending on where or when she’s asked.”
Graham is currently locked in a dead heat with Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison in a race that could give Democrats control of the Senate and recently refused to take a COVID test after exposure to his infected GOP colleagues before a debate with Harrison. As Slate noted, “Graham also participated in the months-long blockade of Judge Merrick Garland, allowing the GOP to effectively steal the seat Barack Obama should have filled in the final year of his presidency. And, for this hearing, Graham refused to require that all participants be tested for COVID-19 in advance, despite the fact that Barrett’s nomination celebration, a super-spreader event, had likely resulted in the infection of two GOP senators who sit on the judiciary committee, and indeed participated in the hearings in person, delivering their remarks without masks. Graham personally refused to be tested himself, despite exposure to infected individuals.”
After praising Graham, Feinstein gave him a hug. Both were maskless.
Progressive court reform organization Demand Justice promptly issued a statement calling for Feinstein to be removed: “It's time for Sen. Feinstein to step down from her leadership position on the Senate Judiciary Committee. If she won't, her colleagues need to intervene.”
Feinstein’s praise has already been amplified by the Right to minimize concerns that Barrett is an extreme nominee being rush through in an illegitimate process in violation of Republicans’ own stated principles. And yet it’s clear that Feinstein does not speak for her colleagues or the women, people of color, and other marginalized groups who would be most impacted by a 6-3 Court.
The committee’s other Democrats were direct that “this hearing is a sham,” in the words of Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). By prioritizing jamming through a nominee just days before the election instead of considering desperately needed COVID relief, she continued, “it shows real messed-up priorities from the Republican Party.”
We are NOT Powerless in the Supreme Court Fight! Here’s What You Can Do.
Barrett is scheduled to have her committee vote next Thursday, October 22 at 1 PM Eastern, with a full Senate vote likely the following week. But while it’s easy to feel powerless, we’re not. There’s still time to make your voices heard.
As Klobuchar made clear in her opening statement, Democrats “don’t have some clever procedural way to stop this sham. To stop them from rushing through a nominee. … No, it is you. It is you calling Republican senators and telling them enough is enough.”
There are key actions you can take to help block Barrett’s nomination:
- Call your senators. Urge them to speak out against a rush to confirmation. You can use the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights call-in number to be routed directly to the appropriate Senate office: 1-888-521-6658.
- Email and tweet at your senators with one click using the NWHN’s online advocacy tool.
- Use social media visuals to educate and advocate. The Raising Women’s Voices team has put together an incredible kit of shareable graphics for free and public use.
- Attend a rally or protest. Organizers from across the country are planning a “McConnell v. Justice” rally at the Supreme Court on Saturday, October 17th at 2 PM Eastern, with in-person and online actions to be added later. The Women’s March is also hosting a protest on Saturday. You can also find state and local Indivisible actions here.
- Speak to voters. The National Equality Action Team (NEAT) is hosting virtual phone banks 7 days a week from 10 AM - 11:30 PM Eastern to call and transfer voters from target states to their senators to demand no nomination before inauguration. Sign up here.
Sarah Christopherson, MA, is the Legislative Director for the social justice campaign, Americans for Tax Fairness, and the NWHN’s former Policy Advocacy Director. Her 10 years working for Congress and her deep knowledge of health policy and consumer protection make her the NWHN’s issue area expert on federal health reform implementation and defense, drug and device safety and efficacy, and sexual and reproductive health.