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Confirmation Hearing Highlights For Supreme Court Nominee Barrett

NOEL KING, HOST:

Today is Day 2 of Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Yesterday, Republican senators focused on Barrett's many accomplishments. Here's Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham.

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LINDSEY GRAHAM: There's nothing unconstitutional about this process. This is a vacancy that's occurred through a tragic loss of a great woman. And we're going to fill that vacancy with another great woman.

KING: Senate Democrats painted Barrett as a threat to the Affordable Care Act. Today, they'll have a chance to ask her questions. NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales is following this story. Good morning, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hi, Noel.

KING: What did each party try to accomplish yesterday in the first day of hearings?

GRISALES: Senators made their case to the American people on whether the Barrett nomination should or shouldn't move forward. And they did most of the talking. Republicans painted Barrett as a worthy successor to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg but in the mold of Barrett's mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Democrats highlighted the rush to confirm Barrett in the midst of a pandemic. So far, two GOP members tested positive for the illness this month. And one, Mike Lee, showed up yesterday, less than two weeks after his diagnosis. They also talked about what's at stake. Here's Democratic senator and vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, who sits on the committee.

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KAMALA HARRIS: By replacing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with someone who will undo her legacy, President Trump is attempting to roll back Americans' rights for decades to come.

GRISALES: Democrats claim that Barrett's nomination is being rushed so she can be seated in time if there's a dispute tied to the presidential election or to rule on an Affordable Care Act case that comes before the court next month. They also shared worries that she could help limit the ACA or abortion rights tied to the landmark case Roe v. Wade. Republicans, meanwhile, tried to attack Democrats as anti-Catholic. But not one raised this religious belief issue.

KING: We also, of course, heard from Judge Barrett herself. She gave an opening statement yesterday. What did we learn there?

GRISALES: She said although she was nominated to succeed Ginsburg, no one could ever take her place. She said she closely follows the judicial philosophy of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom she clerked. Let's take a listen.

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AMY CONEY BARRETT: His judicial philosophy was straightforward - a judge must apply the law as it is written, not as she wishes it were. Sometimes that approach meant reaching results that he did not like. But as he put it in one of his best known opinions, that is what it means to say that we have a government of laws and not of men.

GRISALES: She also noted that while the courts have had a vital responsibility to enforce the rule of law, policy decisions should be left to the legislative branch.

KING: And so what are we expecting today?

GRISALES: Members will question Barrett on her position on a lot of these key issues, such as health care and abortion rights. Each senator will get 30 minutes to question Barrett. So with 22 members, this could be a much longer day. Republicans will use these questions to highlight her conservative judicial record, while Democrats will grill Barrett on conflicts of interest and how she'd rule on future cases.

They'll press her again to recuse herself in some of these instances, such as the ACA or if there is an election dispute for the presidency. In a series of calls last week with Barrett, Democrats pressed her on these same concerns. But they told us she repeatedly declined to share insight into future rulings or a commitment to recuse herself on any of these cases. So we expect a replay of that again today.

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

GRISALES: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.