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Trump’s Supreme Court nominee sidesteps question on landmark abortion ruling

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Children of US Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett wear protective masks while listening during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, October 13, 2020. — Reuters pic
Children of US Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett wear protective masks while listening during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, October 13, 2020. — Reuters pic

WASHINGTON, Oct 13 — President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett today told her US Senate confirmation hearing that her religious views would not affect her decisions on the bench and declined to say whether she believes the landmark 1973 ruling legalising abortion nationwide was properly decided.

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing also presented Barrett with a chance to respond to Democratic lawmakers who have been unified in opposing her on what they say would be her role in undermining the Obamacare healthcare law and its protection for patients with pre-existing conditions.

Barrett, facing questioning by senators for the first time, declined to say if she would consider stepping aside from the case, as Democrats have requested, saying she would follow rules on recusal, which give individual justices the final say.

“That’s not a question I can answer in the abstract,” Barrett said.

In responding to questions about abortion, which was legalised by the Supreme Court in a 1973 ruling called Roe v. Wade, Barrett said she would, as in other cases, consider the various factors usually applied when justices weigh whether to overturn a precedent.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the panel’s top Democrat, asked Barrett whether she believed Roe v. Wade, which recognised a woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy, was properly decided. She declined to answer.

Feinstein told Barrett it was “disturbing” that she would not give an answer.

Religious conservatives are hoping the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade.

Barrett pledged to follow the rules that bind justices when considering whether to overturn precedent.

“I promise to do that for any issue that comes up, abortion or anything else. I’ll follow the law,” Barrett said.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, the committee’s chairman, opened the questioning by asking her about her conservative legal philosophy known as originalism, in which laws and the Constitution are interpreted based on the meaning they had at the time they were enacted.

“That meaning doesn’t change over time and it’s not for me to update it or infuse my own policy views into it,” Barrett said.

Graham asked Barrett, a devout Catholic and a favourite of religious conservatives, whether she could set aside her religious beliefs in making decisions as a justice.

“I can,” Barrett said.

Barrett called the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom she served as a clerk two decades ago, as her mentor, but said she would not always rule the same way as him.

“You would not be getting Justice Scalia, you would be getting Justice Barrett. That is so because originalists don’t always agree,” she said.

Barrett sat alone at a table facing the senators.

Barrett was nominated to a lifetime post on the court on Sept. 26 by Trump to replace the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Barrett could be on the Supreme Court in time for the Nov. 10 arguments in a case in which Trump and Republican-led states are seeking to invalidate the 2010 Affordable Care Act, Democratic former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement that has enabled millions of Americans to obtain medical coverage.

Barrett has criticised a 2012 Supreme Court ruling authored by conservative Chief Justice John Roberts that upheld the law, popularly known as Obamacare.

Republicans have a 53-47 Senate majority, leaving Democrats with little to no chance of blocking Barrett’s confirmation.

If confirmed, Barrett, 48, would tilt the Supreme Court further to the right and give conservative justices a 6-3 majority, making even the unexpected victories on which liberals have prevailed in recent years, including abortion and gay rights, rarer still. She is Trump’s third Supreme Court appointment.

Trump’s nomination of Barrett came late in an election cycle when Republican control of both the White House and Senate is at stake. The confirmation hearing format has changed because of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the public excluded and some senators participating remotely.

Democrats, including vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, on the first day of the hearing zeroed in on the fate of Obamacare, as Republicans push to confirm Barrett before the Nov. 3 presidential election between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.

The hearing is a key step before a full Senate vote by the end of October on Barrett’s confirmation to a lifetime job on the court. — Reuters

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