Oct 11, 2020 - Politics & Policy

What to expect at this week's Supreme Court confirmation hearings

Photo illustration of Amy Coney Barrett with stars and stripes

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Pool/Getty Images     

Democrats are heading into this week's confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett with one overarching goal: protect Joe Biden's election.

Why it matters: They have little chance of stopping Barrett's confirmation unless more Republican senators test positive for the coronavirus or there's a truly unexpected disclosure, which sources from both parties say is unlikely.

  • So Democrats are instead hoping to use the hearings as an opportunity to mobilize voters on key issues, like health care and voting rights.
  • But they also recognize they risk energizing Republicans if they go too far in their attacks, and they're hoping to minimize self-damage when pressing her on topics about abortion and her deeply conservative religious views.

The other side: Republicans plan to play it safe and confirm Barrett as quickly as possible.

  • They plan to redirect a lot of their time with Barrett to fanning the notion that if Biden is elected, Democrats will pursue Supreme Court packing to dilute a conservative lock.

Behind the scenes: Senate Judiciary Democrats have been regularly meeting over the past few weeks to strategize and divvy up their lines of attack.

  • They plan to press Barrett to recuse herself from cases directly involving the November election and will lean into fears about what a 6-3 conservative court that includes her could do to unravel protections for voting rights and for health insurance coverage of preexisting conditions.

On abortion and religion: People on both sides believe Barrett's addition to the court could roll back abortion rights. But a real or perceived attack on her Catholic faith by Democrats on the committee could hurt Biden in close states.

  • Some Democratic voters oppose abortion, or are sensitive to any appearance of religious persecution.
  • Barrett’s past comments about the role of precedent could provide a safer opening.

Barrett will likely stick to the same refrain every modern nominee does. Expect her to say time and time again that she would give every case a fair hearing and would not want to prejudge a case or an issue now that she could very well have to decide if she’s confirmed.

  • That repetition can get frustrating during a hearing, especially with nominees — like Barrett — whose writings and rulings do provide a fairly grounded sense of how she’s likely to rule. But it’s worked well enough for every other nominee in the past 30 years.

The bottom line: If Barrett is confirmed, the Supreme Court will have the potential to curb Democrats’ agenda for decades.

Go deeper: Read Barrett's opening statement

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