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Barrett Tries To Float Above Democrats' Snares, Including On Election Delay

Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., questions Supreme Court Justice nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett on the second day of her confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.
Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., questions Supreme Court Justice nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett on the second day of her confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

Democrats are putting a new twist on an old game Tuesday in the second day of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation hearings.

In a traditional hearing, members of Congress ask the nominee questions about cases or issues and the nominee tries as much as possible to avoid answering them. Barrett, as so many of her predecessors did, is offering broad guidelines and general statements but trying to avoid committing to anything specific.

She offered a quotation from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose death last month cleared the way for Barrett's likely ascension to the high court: "No hints, no previews, no forecasts."

But Democrats are putting a fresh spin on the routine by zeroing in on specific and individual examples, including in a story told by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California about a man grievously wounded in a car accident whose insurance company threatened to stop paying for his treatments.

The treatments ultimately went ahead, Feinstein said, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. The senator's staff members displayed huge placards of the man behind her so that Barrett would see him as Feinstein told his story.

Democrats' goal: Force Barrett not to address what they consider sympathetic or righteous stories. Feinstein did the same thing with a question about President Trump's comments from earlier this year raising the prospect that he might try to delay the presidential election.

Trump doesn't have that power, which would require action by Congress, but Barrett gave the answer Feinstein knew she would — not to declaim Trump's potential assertion of power but to promise more broadly that if such a disagreement reached her on the Supreme Court, she would treat it professionally.

"If that question ever came before me, I would need to hear the litigants, read briefs, talk to law clerks ... if I gave off-the-cuff answers, I would basically be a legal pundit," Barrett said. "I don't think we want judges to be legal pundits. We want judges to look at cases thoughtfully, with an open mind."

Feinstein and Democrats don't disagree, but they also have a different strategy in the Barrett hearings: They can't stop her from being confirmed so the minority wants to raise as many doubts and concerns as it can for its own constituents.

Feinstein continued that offensive with a question about same-sex marriage, which the Supreme Court said in a landmark 2015 ruling is a right protected by the Constitution. Barrett declined to respond in detail.

"That's really too bad because it's rather a fundamental point for large numbers of people in this country," Feinstein said.

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