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Democratic Senator On Amy Coney Barrett's Confirmation Hearings


After a marathon day of opening statements, senators spent today questioning Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett in Room 216 of the Hart Office Building. The law professor and appeals court judge answered questions on same-sex marriage, the Affordable Care Act and a contested election. While Democrats pushed her to reveal how she might rule, Republicans like Chairman Lindsey Graham encouraged Barrett to reassure skeptics that she would follow the law rather than a personal or political agenda.


AMY CONEY BARRETT: Judges can't just wake up one day and say, I have an agenda - I like guns; I hate guns; I like abortion; I hate abortion - and walk in like a royal queen and impose, you know, their will on the world.


And let's hear now from one of the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Delaware Sen. Chris Coons joined us earlier today before he had an opportunity to question Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

And Sen. Coons, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

CHRIS COONS: Great to be on with you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Do you believe Judge Barrett is qualified to serve on the Supreme Court, setting aside her ideology?

COONS: Well, she certainly attended and has taught at a highly regarded law school. She clerked for the Supreme Court. But as I've said before, she has views - as I've dug into her legal writings, her published law review articles - that are not just as conservative as her mentor, Justice Scalia, but are even farther to the right than that in terms of what opinions she would react to and overturn. For that reason, I think she's unqualified to serve on the court by her judicial philosophy.

SHAPIRO: Another issue that got a lot of attention this morning is the possibility of a disputed presidential election. And Judge Barrett has refused to say whether she would recuse herself from a case involving the election. She argues it would be wrong to prejudge that question. Are Democrats purely pushing this for political reasons because they want to foreclose the possibility of Barrett helping President Trump to a second term?

COONS: Well, it would only foreclose that possibility if she recused herself. And it's President Trump himself who put this out there as an issue by saying, I'm nominating her so that there will be nine justices to rule in my favor if the election is not resolved.

SHAPIRO: Sounds like you're saying, yes, this is political. It's not that we think she is conflicted out or otherwise legally barred from hearing a case like this. We just want to make sure there isn't a surefire vote for President Trump on the court.

COONS: That's my core concern. And it's a concern that's been put in front of the whole country and this committee by what President Trump himself said. This isn't something I'm inventing. It was President Trump's public statement that raises legitimate questions about her independence.

SHAPIRO: The Affordable Care Act has arguably been the biggest focus of Democrats because a case challenging the law will come before the court one week after the election. Republicans argue that a judge can't and shouldn't make a precommitment to uphold a particular policy and that it's inappropriate for Democrats to press her to do so. Why do Democrats keep pressing her anyway?

COONS: This is the No. 1 issue that I hear from (inaudible) because a majority of Americans actually rely on the Affordable Care Act for health care protection. I'll remind (inaudible) Justice Ginsburg's seat we're filling here, and Justice Ginsburg dedicated her life to fighting for gender equality. The Affordable Care Act protects...

SHAPIRO: Yes, but to the central question of why a judge should make a blanket pronouncement on how they'll rule on a policy that's about to come before the court they're seeking confirmation to - that's something that Democrats have resisted when an Obama nominee was up for confirmation. And, I mean, why should a different standard apply now?

COONS: All right. You may misunderstand what it is we're asking and what it is we're raising, so let me try. And I agree with you. There is a long tradition of judges saying, well, I'm not going to tell you how I would rule on that, and the canons of judicial ethics require that. I understand that. I just think it's important for your listeners and for the viewers who are watching this confirmation process to realize President Trump said, I will only nominate someone who will overturn the ACA. And given that there is a case just a week after the election, the whole circumstance seems awfully, uncomfortably clear that she is being rushed through in order to provide a deciding vote.

SHAPIRO: Finally, if, as expected, Barrett is confirmed to the Supreme Court and if Democrats take back the presidency and the Congress, would you support expanding the number of justices on the Supreme Court?

COONS: Well, I'm not going to get into what I think is at this point a purely hypothetical question. What has been hard to sit through is the ways in 2016 and now in 2020 that the majority has played games with the seating of a Supreme Court nominee. This is a core objective of the Republican majority - is to reshape our federal courts in a sharply more conservative way. That's raised the concern about court-packing. And it's one of the things that I've been asking my colleagues to consider. Why race ahead with this confirmation?

SHAPIRO: So it sounds like, while you don't want to weigh in on a hypothetical, you are ready to lay out all the reasons that Democrats might hypothetically want to do this.

COONS: That's correct.

SHAPIRO: Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, thank you for speaking with us once again.

COONS: Thanks, Ari.

SHAPIRO: And we've also requested interviews with Republican senators on the judiciary committee. We hope to bring you that conversation tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.