Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation hearing: Day 1

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 4:00 PM ET, Mon October 12, 2020
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1:31 p.m. ET, October 12, 2020

Harris slams Republicans for pushing SCOTUS nomination over Covid-19 relief

From CNN's Elise Hammond, Jeremy Herb and Jasmine Wright

Leah Millis/Pool/Getty Images
Leah Millis/Pool/Getty Images

Sen. Kamala Harris said the Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Judge Amy Coney Barrett should have been postponed because of coronavirus concerns, saying the committee has not taken enough precautions to keep people safe.

"This hearing has brought together more than 50 people to sit inside of a closed door room for hours while our nation is facing a deadly airborne virus. This committee has ignored common sense requests to keep people safe – including not requiring testing for all members – despite a coronavirus outbreak among senators of this very committee," Harris said during her opening statement, speaking remotely from her Senate office.

She said not postponing the confirmation hearing puts people at risk and pauses talks about additional coronavirus relief funding.

“This hearing should have been postponed,” Harris said. “The decision to hold this hearing now is reckless and places facilities workers, janitorial staff and congressional aides and Capitol Police at risk. Not to mention while tens of millions of Americans are struggling to pay their bills, the Senate should be prioritizing coronavirus relief and providing financial support to those families," she said.

Harris said continuing with the hearing shows that "Republicans have made it crystal clear that rushing a Supreme Court nomination is more important than helping and supporting the American people who are suffering from a deadly pandemic and economic crisis."

"Their priorities are not the American people's priorities," she added.


1:32 p.m. ET, October 12, 2020

Graham pushes back on Trump tweet about skipping confirmation hearings

From CNN's Lauren Koenig

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, responded to President Trump's tweet about skipping the confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett and moving straight to a vote.  

“With all due respect to the President, the committee is following the traditions of the committee,” Graham told reporters, which allows for opening statements from members and questioning of the nominee.

“I think it’s good for the country to have this hearing,” he said. “I doubt it’ll change any minds in terms of how they vote, but I like the idea that a lifetime appointee to the Supreme Court can be challenged.” 

Graham said, “We will proceed forward in the way that we have in the past.”

Trump on Twitter this morning said: "The Republicans are giving the Democrats a great deal of time, which is not mandated, to make their self serving statements relative to our great new future Supreme Court Justice. Personally, I would pull back, approve, and go for STIMULUS for the people!!!"

When asked by CNN’s Manu Raju if he thinks members should be tested for Covid-19, Graham replied, “I don’t know what it’s like at CNN, but you can’t demand that all of your colleagues be tested before you go to work if there is no reason.”

The senator said that he was tested “a week ago Friday” and that he feels fine.

12:55 p.m. ET, October 12, 2020

Sen. Hawley slams Democrats for what he perceived to be veiled attacks on Barrett’s Catholicism

From CNN's Ariane de Vogue

In perhaps the most heated statements so far in today's hearing, Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, attacked Democrats for what he perceived to be veiled attacks on Amy Coney Barrett's Catholicism — something he called a “pattern and practice of religious bigotry.” 

But in reality, today it has been Republicans, not Democrats who have referred to her religion. As for Barrett, she plans to nod to it in her opening statement where she will say that she believes in the power of prayer. 

Hawley specifically pointed to Barrett’s confirmation hearing from 2017 when top-ranked Democratic member Sen. Dianne Feinstein pressed her on her writing about faith and the law. In a tense exchange, the Democratic senator questioned whether the judicial nominee could separate her Catholic views from her legal opinions.

"The conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you," Feinstein pointedly said. "And that's of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this county."

The exchange invigorated and emboldened conservatives who said she had been a victim of anti-Catholic bias.

Today Hawley said, “When you tell somebody that they're too Catholic to be on the bench, when you tell them they're going to be a Catholic judge, not an American judge, that's bigotry,” he said. 

“The pattern and practice of bigotry from members of this committee must stop,” he said, adding, “And I would expect that it be renounced."

Other Republicans, Sen. John Cornyn and Sen. Ben Sasse, have talked about religion.  

But Democrats like Sen. Chris Coons have said that they will concentrate not on religious liberty but on what she has written. 

The majority of the Supreme Court now is Catholic.


12:36 p.m. ET, October 12, 2020

Sen. Kamala Harris will speak soon in confirmation hearing

From CNN's Maeve Reston

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is back after a short recess, and Sen. Kamala Harris is set to deliver her opening statement soon remotely from her Senate office.

Close allies of the California senator cautioned that viewers tuning in shouldn't expect those kind of fireworks from the vice presidential candidate.  

This time, Harris is playing a much more complex dual role, a Judiciary Committee member valued by her party for her courtroom skills, but also the running mate of a Democratic presidential nominee who has condemned the divisive, angry politics of Washington and is promising to be a president to people all political persuasions.

Instead, advisers say, Harris, along with her fellow Democrats on the committee, will keep the focus on health care and what Barrett's confirmation could mean for the future of the Affordable Care Act.

Read more here.

11:50 a.m. ET, October 12, 2020

The hearing is in recess. Here's what is to come.

From CNN's Clare Foran and Ariane de Vogue

Win McNamee/Pool/AFP/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is in a short minute break. They hearing is expected to resume at 12:20 p.m. ET.

When members return, they will continue with their opening statements. Barrett will then be sworn in by Chair Lindsey Graham, and she will deliver her opening statement to the committee.

So far in the hearing, partisan battle lines have been clearly drawn. In opening speeches, Republican senators praised Barrett's judicial qualifications in glowing terms and emphasized her capability as a working mom, while Democrats warned that health care protections and the Affordable Care Act are at stake if the confirmation succeeds.

Graham, a South Carolina Republican, described Barrett as "in a category of excellence," saying that she is "highly respected" and "widely-admired for her integrity."

12:35 p.m. ET, October 12, 2020

Blumenthal to Barrett: "Recuse yourself" from any Trump election cases

From CNN's legal analyst Joan Biskupic

Susan Walsh/Pool/Getty Images
Susan Walsh/Pool/Getty Images

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, used his opening statement in today's hearing to urge Judge Amy Coney Barrett to sit out any Supreme Court election cases involving President Trump.

“Your participation – let me be very blunt – in any case involving Donald Trump’s election would immediately do explosive, enduring harm to the court’s legitimacy and to your own credibility. You must recuse yourself,” he said.

Blumenthal told Barrett he is "really deeply concerned" that the Supreme Court is "losing the trust and respect of the American people."

"The American people follow the Supreme Court's commands, even when they disagree, because they respect its authority. And now, President Trump and the Republican senators are eroding, indeed destroying, that legitimacy. They've stripped the American people of their say in this process, simply to confirm a justice who will strike down in court, legislate from the bench, what they can't repeal in congress," he said.

Some context: Democratic senators are pressing Barrett to promise to sit out any Supreme Court election dispute between Trump and former vice president Joe Biden.

Barrett has eluded their requests and made no commitment. Yet with controversies over state ballot practices escalating and the possibility of a replay of the 2000 Bush v. Gore ordeal in the air, the topic is sure to surface at Barrett's Senate confirmation hearings next week.

Trump has pointed to the November 3 election as a reason for seeking swift Senate confirmation of Barrett, a federal appeals court judge who would be his third appointee to the nine-member bench. The Republican incumbent has said he believes the Supreme Court could ultimately decide whether he is the victor over Biden.


11:27 a.m. ET, October 12, 2020

Republicans and Democrats present alternate realities about Barrett's confirmation timeline

Analysis from CNN's Joan Biskupic

Erin Schaff/Pool/Getty Images
Erin Schaff/Pool/Getty Images

There’s an incongruity in senators’ declarations of the importance of the Supreme Court when there’s a certain emptiness to the hearings so far.

As Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsey Graham said, Republicans have the votes to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Both sides are going through the motions.

Republicans are not going to pin down the President’s nominee, and Democrats have made clear they will refer to the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the Affordable Care Act yet avoid any strong confrontation with Barrett.

Supreme Court confirmation hearings have long been known for elusive answers, this one could be marked by weak, watered down questions, too. 

This hearing also seems to have a disproportionate number of “regular American” references, as Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse is doing now by brining up Laura, a Rhode Island resident with preexisting conditions, who was protected by the Affordable Care Act. Democrats want to personalize this hearing, bring it home to people watching.

It’s unlikely to change the Senate vote, but it is a reminder for the electorate that President Trump is at the Supreme Court trying to kill the entire ACA.

11:50 a.m. ET, October 12, 2020

How Justice Scalia's originalist views could shed light into how Barrett could serve on the court

Analysis from CNN's Joan Biskupic

In this 2006 file photo, the late US Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia speaks in McLean, Virginia.
In this 2006 file photo, the late US Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia speaks in McLean, Virginia. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Keying off of Sen. Ben Sasse about the importance of having another “originalist” on the Supreme Court, we know where originalists will go in practical terms, for better or for worse.

We have the record of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom Judge Amy Coney Barrett once served as a law clerk.

His originalist and textualist views led him to dissent when the majority declared a right to same-sex marriage, to vote consistently against abortion rights, and to vote to strike down the Affordable Care Act.

An originalist believes the Constitution should be interpreted the way its framers in the 18th century understood it. Scalia believed the Constitution brought gun rights under the Second Amendment. He broadly dissented on gay rights and reproductive rights, not just against Obergefell and same-sex marriage.


11:19 a.m. ET, October 12, 2020

Lindsey Graham cracks a joke about Sen. Lee's Covid-19 diagnosis

From CNN's Ariane de Vogue

Lindsey Graham speaks during the Senate Judiciary Committee on the first day of Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on October 12.
Lindsey Graham speaks during the Senate Judiciary Committee on the first day of Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on October 12. Demetrius Freeman/Pool/Getty Images

Sen. Mike Lee, a former clerk to Justice Samuel Alito, had spent much of his time talking in today's hearing about how a judge should not stray into policy decisions, but instead, limit herself or himself to issues such as the dormant commerce clause. 

Lee spoke at the hearing in-person today, despite testing positive for Covid-19 11 days ago.

When Lee finished, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham spoke up and cracked a joke.  

“Definitely some good news,” he said. “ Senator Lee's enthusiasm for the dormant commerce clause convinces me you have made a full recovery.” He then turned to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse for his 10 minutes. 

Whitehouse immediately stepped in calling the hearing an “irresponsible botch” and he said that it was a “microcosm of Trump’s dangerous ineptitude in dealing with the Covid pandemic.” 

Whitehouse said it was Graham’s job to see to the committee’s safety, and yet he doesn’t now “who has been tested, who should be tested , who is a danger, what contact tracing has been done on infected and exposed senators and staff.” 

“The irony is that this slap-dash hearing targets the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “I hope Republicans consider what's at stake for the many people who depend right now, in this pandemic, on ACA health coverage,” he concluded. 

Some context: Lee, a Republican from Utah who tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this month, released a letter he received on Monday from the Attending Physician of the United States Congress Dr. Brian Monahan saying that he no longer had to isolate. Lee was seen working in the committee room without a mask.