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Senate Panel Begins 2nd Day Of Hearings For Supreme Court Nominee Barrett

NOEL KING, HOST:

Day 2 of Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett is underway. Today started with the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham, expressing his support for Barrett.

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LINDSEY GRAHAM: But I want the American people to know I think it's OK to be religiously conservative. I think it's OK to be personally pro-choice. I think it's OK to live your life in a traditional Catholic fashion and you still be qualified for the Supreme Court.

KING: Republicans made similar points yesterday. Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are questioning Barrett about her views on the Affordable Care Act and abortion rights, among other things. NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales is watching the hearings. Good morning, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: So we are two hours and eight minutes in or so. What's happened today?

GRISALES: Today's been focused on hearing from Barrett directly as Republicans paint her as a worthy successor to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg but in the mold of Barrett's mentor, and that's the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Democrats are grilling her on past statements on the Affordable Care Act and abortion rights related to the landmark case Roe v. Wade. And they're slamming those claims that she would honor Ginsburg's legacy when it comes to these cases.

It's a response to some of the arguments we heard yesterday. Senators wanted to frame her nomination - they did most of the talking - whether it was Republicans or Democrats, from their vantage point. Republicans expressed why this is an urgent matter to get her on the Supreme Court. Democrats underscored this rush in the midst of a pandemic - and remember, two of the panel's GOP members tested positive for the illness earlier this month - and saying that their concerns were that they - Republicans wanted her on the court so that she can rule in potential cases involving perhaps a dispute tied to the presidential election or be seated in time to rule on an Affordable Care Act case that's before the court next month. And they're worried that she could limit provisions related to these cases. So we're hearing these same arguments, but we're hearing them today more in Barrett's voice responding to these questions.

KING: Republicans, on the other hand, accuse Democrats of making assumptions of how Barrett would rule, for example, on the Affordable Care Act. What are they highlighting so far?

GRISALES: They want to reject Democrats' arguments that Barrett is a foe of the ACA or abortion rights, but Democrats have based this on a stance that's been well-established by Barrett herself in previous arguments and cases. Republicans, however, have defended Barrett's judicial philosophy, and they say there's no guarantees on how she would rule in the future. Graham also asked her why she agreed to be a nominee to the court. Let's take a listen.

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AMY CONEY BARRETT: We knew that our lives would be combed over for any negative detail. We knew that our faith would be caricatured. We knew our family would be attacked. And so we had to decide whether those difficulties would be worth it, because what sane person would go through that if there wasn't a benefit on the other side?

GRISALES: So this was a large insight into why Barrett agreed to be a nominee to the Supreme Court under these controversial circumstances.

KING: Democrats, meanwhile, are pressing her on issues like abortion and LGBTQ rights. How has she been responding?

GRISALES: Yes. Ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein led the first round of questions there and asked her position on the ACA, abortion rights and a slate of other issues. And during an exchange on LGBTQ rights, she tried to get Barrett to be more specific on her stance. Let's take a listen.

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DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Now, you said in your acceptance speech for this nomination that Justice Scalia's philosophy is your philosophy. Do you agree with this particular point of Justice Scalia's view that the U.S. Constitution does not afford gay people the fundamental right to marry?

BARRETT: Sen. Feinstein, as I said to Sen. Graham at the outset, if I were confirmed, you would be getting Justice Barrett, not Justice Scalia. So I don't think that anybody should assume that just because Justice Scalia decided a decision a certain way that I would, too. But I'm not going to express a view on whether I agree or disagree with Justice Scalia for the same reasons that I've been giving. Now, Justice Ginsburg, with her characteristic pithiness, used this way - this to describe how a nominee should comport herself at a hearing - no hints, no previews, no forecasts.

GRISALES: And again and again, Barrett declined to spell out how she might rule on any related cases in the future. She said she can't make any of these pre-commitments because it would be inconsistent with judicial independence. Democrats have also pressed her if she would recuse herself if there's a dispute in the presidential election, and she declined to commit there as well. So this is a theme that we could hear more of from Barrett today.

KING: NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales. Thanks, Claudia.

GRISALES: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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