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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10:19 a.m. ET, October 12, 2020

Lindsey Graham: Holding a Supreme Court confirmation hearing for weeks before an election is constitutional

From CNN's Aditi Sangal

Shawn Thew/Pool/AP
Shawn Thew/Pool/AP

Sen. Lindsey Graham addressed the controversy around President Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the Senate Republicans’ push to confirm the nomination.

“There's nothing unconstitutional about this process. This is a vacancy that's occurred through a tragic loss of a great woman, and we're going to fill that vacancy with another great woman. The bottom line here is that the Senate is doing its duty constitutionally,” he said.

Remember: In 2016, when former President Barack Obama nominated judge Merrick Garland to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Sen. Graham was opposed to holding a confirmation hearing.

At the time, he had said:

"I want you to use my words against me," Graham said at the time. "If there's a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say, 'Lindsey Graham said let's let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.'"

Sen. Graham anticipated and addressed this record in his opening statement at Barrett’s hearing:

“We can talk about history, but here's the history as I understand it. There's never been a situation where you had a president of one party and the senate of another, where the nominee, the replacement, was made in election year. It's been over 140 years ago. I think there have been 19 vacancies filled in an election year, 17 of the 19 were confirmed to the court when the party of the president and the senate were the same. In terms of timing, the hearing is starting 16 days after nomination. More than half of all Supreme Court hearings have been held within 16 days of the announcement of the nominee.”

He reiterated that he feels that this is being done “constitutionally” and he respects that the Democratic senators will have objections.

“The bottom line is I think it's important. This is a lifetime appointment. I would like the world and the country to know more about Judge Barrett. I'm proud of you. I'm proud of what you’ve accomplished and I think you're a great choice by the President.”

He also acknowledged that the confirmation votes will break out on partisan lines.

“This is probably not about persuading each other unless something really dramatic happens. All Republicans will vote yes, and all Democrats will vote no, and that will be the way the breakout of the vote," he said.


9:43 a.m. ET, October 12, 2020

American Bar Association rates Barrett as "well qualified" for Supreme Court position

From CNN's Ariane de Vogue

Susan Walsh/Pool/AP
Susan Walsh/Pool/AP

The American Bar Association rates Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump’s third nominee to the Supreme Court, as “well qualified” for the position, according to a letter sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The first day of Barrett's conformation hearing kicked off this morning.

Republicans have been critical of the American Bar Association, especially after it deemed some of Trump’s nominees unqualified for the lower courts. 

Here is the letter:  

Dear Chairman Graham and Ranking Member Feinstein: 

The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary has completed its evaluation of the professional qualifications of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who has been nominated by the President to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. As you know, the Standing Committee confines its evaluation to the qualities of integrity, professional competence, and judicial temperament. A substantial majority of the Standing Committee determined that Judge Barrett is “Well Qualified,” and a minority is of the opinion that she is “Qualified” to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. The majority rating represents the Standing Committee’s official rating. 

Yours very truly, 

Randall D. Noel 

Chair, Standing Committee On the Federal Judiciary 

9:49 a.m. ET, October 12, 2020

Judge Barrett is in a "category of excellence," Sen. Lindsey Graham says

Susan Walsh/Pool/AP
Susan Walsh/Pool/AP

Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett is in a "category of excellence" during his opening statements of her confirmation hearing this morning.

"In my view, the person appearing before this committee is in a category of excellence, something the country should be proud of, and she will have a chance to make her case to be a worthy successor and to become the ninth member of the Supreme Court of the United States," Graham said.

He also praised the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, saying that during her confirmation hearing almost every Republican senator voted for her based on her qualifications.

"I just want to remind everybody, there was a time in this country where someone like Ruth Bader Ginsburg was seen by almost everybody as qualified for the position of being on the Supreme Court, understanding that she would have a different philosophy than many of the Republicans who voted for her," Graham said, drawing parallels to Barrett.

As Republicans are expected to push the hearing forward with speed and Democrats look for ways to draw out the process for the lifetime appointment, Graham called for senators to use the hearing as an opportunity to learn more about Barrett.

"The hearing is a chance for Democrats to dig deep into her philosophy, appropriately ask her about the law, how she would be different, what's on her mind. It gives Republicans a chance to do the same thing," he said about Barrett.


9:10 a.m. ET, October 12, 2020

The first day of confirmation hearings for Barrett have begun. Here are key things to know about the judge.

From CNN's Joan Biskupic

Win McNamee/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a federal appellate judge and Notre Dame law professor, is a proven conservative who has long been atop President Trump's Supreme Court short list.

Barrett, the mother of seven children and a former law clerk to the late right-wing beacon Justice Antonin Scalia, Barrett, now 48, was a finalist for the Supreme Court spot that went to Brett Kavanaugh in 2018. Trump announced Sept. 26 he was nominating Barrett to be the new high court justice.

Here is a look at key moments of her career:

Divided reactions to her record: Advocates on the far right have backed her possible nomination because of her writings on faith and the law. Religious conservatives were especially energized for Barrett when, during the 2017 confirmation hearing for her current judgeship, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California suggested to her that the "dogma lives loudly within you." Barrett supporters believed the nominee was being disparaged for her Catholicism.

For all the reasons that Trump sees Barrett as a potential successor to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Democratic senators and liberal advocates have long been poised to oppose her, warning particularly that she could roll back abortion rights and invalidate the Affordable Care Act.

Read more about her life and career here.

9:16 a.m. ET, October 12, 2020

What the inside of the Senate hearing room looks like

From CNN's Lauren Fox

Win McNamee/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Supreme Court Nominee Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to begin shortly and it will look very different from hearings of the past.

Members have the option of appearing and questioning the witness in person or remotely. Committee chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham, ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Barrett will be in-person for the hearing. Sen. Kamala Harris plans to attend virtually from her Senate office.

The hearing is taking place in the Hart Senate Office building in room 216, the site of the last several Supreme Court nomination hearings, but the number of individuals permitted will be dramatically scaled back, according to a GOP Senate aide familiar with the hearing's planning that spoke to CNN earlier this month.

Barrett’s family will be permitted in the room if they choose to attend and five administration officials from the White House and Justice Department will be permitted. There will be no public seating, which has been the case for hearings on Capitol Hill for months. 

Members will be at least 6 feet apart. And every member will have hand sanitizer, paper towels, wipes and trash cans available to them within reach, according to the aide.

9:43 a.m. ET, October 12, 2020

Sen. Mike Lee — who tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this month — will be attending the hearing in person

From CNN's Lauren Fox

US Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett meets with Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) as she begins a series of meetings to prepare for her confirmation hearing at the US Capitol on September 29.
US Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett meets with Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) as she begins a series of meetings to prepare for her confirmation hearing at the US Capitol on September 29. Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, told radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt that he plans to attend Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings in person.

“Feeling great,” Lee said. “I will be participating in person.”

He said he has received the sign off from his physician.

Lee, alongside Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, tested positive for coronavirus after they attended Barrett's Rose Garden announcement at the end of last month.

9:12 a.m. ET, October 12, 2020

Obamacare fight could be a political opportunity for Democrats during confirmation hearings

From CNN's Jeremy Herb

Even if Democrats are fighting a losing battle to stop Judge Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation, the public attention on the Supreme Court hearings gives them an opportunity to push a health care message that helped them win the House in 2018 — and they hope will help take back the Senate and White House next month.

The Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the Affordable Care Act a week after the election in a case brought by Republican state attorneys general and the Trump administration, meaning Barrett could hear the case.

Democrats say the case threatens care for millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions, a popular protection included in the Affordable Care Act.

A CNN poll released earlier this month found that 57% of Americans surveyed now favor Obamacare (up from 50% in 2017), and that 61% do not want the Supreme Court to overturn it.

Barrett, then a University of Notre Dame law professor, wrote in a 2017 law review essay criticizing the way Chief Justice John Roberts saved the Affordable Care Act in 2012.

"Chief Justice Roberts pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute. He construed the penalty imposed on those without health insurance as a tax, which permitted him to sustain the statute as a valid exercise of the taxing power."

She continued, "Had he treated the payment as the statute did — as a penalty — he would have had to invalidate the statute as lying beyond Congress's commerce power."

While Trump has claimed he will protect pre-existing conditions, he has not put forward any plan to do so despite months of pledges that a health care plan is coming any day now.


8:53 a.m. ET, October 12, 2020

What you need to know about the Supreme Court nomination process

Analysis from CNN's Zachary B. Wolf

Erin Schaff/Pool/The New York Times/AP
Erin Schaff/Pool/The New York Times/AP

Today is the first day of confirmation hearings for President Trump's Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

Here's what we know about what happens next, and why it matters:

How many votes does it take to confirm a new justice? Republicans ended the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, so it takes only a simple majority. Vice President Mike Pence can break a 50-50 tie, which might happen if three Republicans decide they won't vote for Trump's nominee.

What if a confirmation doesn't happen before the election? Key Republican senators have said they won't support holding hearings before Election Day. But a new Congress takes office Jan. 3, so the current Senate, with the current Republican majority, has only until then to confirm a Trump nominee. Trump, however, remains in office until Jan. 20 at noon, so a new Republican majority could also confirm a Trump pick in the new year even if he loses.

What if Republicans lose the Senate in November? Can they still vote after the election? Absolutely. That's true even if Democrats win the White House and the Senate — anytime before Jan. 3, the current Senate Republicans can still go ahead and confirm a conservative nominee. That would sew up a very conservative majority on the Supreme Court for a generation or more.

Republicans currently control the White House. Shouldn't they get to nominate whoever they want? Technically, yes. According to the Constitution, the president appoints Supreme Court justices and the Senate approves the pick.

What difference does it make, practically, if Trump gets another justice? There are several major cases on the docket already. Here are two ways in which a conservative majority could likely have an almost immediate impact:

  1. The Affordable Care Act — Obamacare, which dramatically expanded Americans' access to health insurance coverage, has narrowly withstood several court challenges. It's currently facing another one. The law has survived only because a conservative justice, Chief Justice John Roberts, has sided with liberal judges. But the Trump administration has gotten behind a coalition of several states currently challenging it. Arguments are scheduled for shortly after the election. A conservative majority could overturn the law, which Trump and other Republicans currently have no plan to replace.
  2. Abortion — When Republicans sat on that vacant seat in 2016, preventing Obama from naming Merrick Garland to the bench and giving Trump a seat to fill as soon as he took office, it changed the balance of the court in a way that will threaten the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the US. If a conservative replaces Ginsburg, it will take two Republican-appointed swing votes to protect the Roe decision. Otherwise, there's a good chance abortion will be outlawed in many US states.

Read more here.

8:50 a.m. ET, October 12, 2020

Here's what Amy Coney Barrett will tell lawmakers in her opening statement

From CNN's Chandelis Duster, Pamela Brown and Ariane de Vogue

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett arrives on Capitol Hill to begin her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Monday, October 12 on Capitol Hill.
Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett arrives on Capitol Hill to begin her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Monday, October 12 on Capitol Hill. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

When Judge Amy Coney Barrett delivers her opening statement today to the Senate Judiciary Committee, she'll focus on how her family, an upbringing modeled on service and faith and her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, influenced her opportunity to be nominated to the Supreme Court.

Barrett, who clerked for Scalia, will say it was his "reasoning" that shaped her and that his "judicial philosophy was straightforward: A judge must apply the law as written, not as the judge wishes it were," according to a copy of the statement released Sunday in advance of the hearing.

The late justice, she is expected to say, taught her more than just law and he was "devoted to his family, resolute in his beliefs, and fearless of criticism."

Throughout her legal career, Barrett says in the prepared remarks, she resolved to maintain the same perspective as Scalia.

"There is a tendency in our profession to treat the practice of law as all-consuming, while losing sight of everything else. But that makes for a shallow and unfulfilling life," Barrett says, according to the copy of her remarks. "I worked hard as a lawyer and a professor; I owed that to my clients, my students, and myself. But I never let the law define my identity or crowd out the rest of my life."

Nominated by President Trump last month to the nation's highest court to fill the vacancy on the bench following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Barrett will praise the late justice for opening doors — even though the two women are ideological opposites.

"I have been nominated to fill Justice Ginsburg's seat, but no one will ever take her place," Barrett will say. "I will be forever grateful for the path she marked and the life she led."

For all the reasons that Trump sees Barrett as a potential successor to Ginsburg, Democratic senators and liberal advocates have long been poised to oppose her, warning particularly that she could roll back abortion rights and invalidate the Affordable Care Act.

Barrett, the mother of seven children, was a finalist for the Supreme Court spot that went to Brett Kavanaugh in 2018. She is a proven conservative with a compelling personal story.

Read more here.