Amy Coney Barrett’s US Supreme Court confirmation hearing opens

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The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that could see President Donald Trump’s pick confirmed onto the Supreme Court before polling day in the US election is under way.

The Republican-led Senate has charged ahead with Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing that is likely to see her replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and cement the conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

Barring a dramatic development, Republicans appear to have the votes to confirm the 48-year-old conservative appellate judge to a lifetime seat on the court.

Supreme Court Barrett
The Senate Judiciary Committee is meeting in an environment altered by the coronavirus pandemic (Win McNamee/Pool via AP)

Senator Lindsey Graham opened the hearing acknowledging that “the Covid problem in America is real”. But he said: “We do have a country that needs to move forward safely.”

He added: “This is going to be a long, contentious week.”

Republican senator Lindsey Graham
Republican senator Lindsey Graham (Shawn Thew/Pool via AP)

Democrats wasted no time in trying to tie Ms Barrett’s nomination to a threat to the Affordable Care Act. If she is confirmed quickly Ms Barrett could be on the Supreme Court when it hears the latest challenge to the law popularly known as “Obamacare” on November 10, a week after the election.

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee’s senior Democrat, said: “Healthcare coverage for millions of Americans is at stake with this nomination.”

California’s other senator, and the Democrats’ nominee for vice president, senator Kamala Harris, was participating remotely from her congressional office.

“We are 22 days away from an election and people are voting right now. And that’s the focus given that they’re trying to push through, ram through a Supreme Court justice for a lifetime appointment while almost seven million people have already voted,” Ms Harris said as she arrived at her office.

Ms Barrett, a federal appeals court judge, will tell senators that she is “forever grateful” for Ms Ginsburg’s trailblazing path as a woman. But she is resolved to maintain the perspective of her own mentor, the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and “apply the law as written,” according to her prepared opening remarks for the hearings.

“Courts are not designed to solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life,” Ms Barrett says in the remarks.

Republicans are moving at a breakneck pace to seat Ms Barrett before the November 3 election to secure Mr Trump’s pick, which would put her on the bench for any election-related challenges.

Democrats are trying in vain to delay the fast-track confirmation by raising fresh concerns about the safety of meeting during the pandemic after two Republican senators on the panel tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Senator Mike Lee, one of those who tested positive, is in the hearing room after his spokesman said he was symptom-free. The other affected senator, Republican Thom Tillis, was participating remotely, though he too is symptom-free, his spokesman said. Both tested positive 10 days ago.

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