“This is the first time in American history that we’ve nominated a woman who’s unashamedly pro-life and embraces her faith without apology. And she is going to the court, where there is a seat at the table waiting for you.”
During her testimony Barrett came across as poised, confident, well-prepared and determined not to say anything that could get her into trouble. Conservatives revelled in the fact that, unlike previous Supreme Court nominees, she spoke off the cuff without the help of notes. Democrats complimented her on how well-behaved her seven children – two adopted from Haiti – were as they sat quietly behind her for hours.
By the end of her first day of questioning, 48 per cent of Americans said they supported Barrett’s nomination, according to a Morning Consult poll, up from 36 per cent the day Trump announced her as his pick.
A slip-up came when Barrett failed to name all of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment of the US Constitution, but this was a rare mistake.
Asked whether she would follow the lead of her mentor, the late conservative judge Antonin Scalia, she asserted her independence, saying: “I assure you I have my own mind. Everything that he said is not necessarily what I would agree with or what I would do if I was Justice Barrett.”
Following the tradition that Supreme Court nominees don’t give previews about how they would vote in potential cases, Barrett was evasive when asked if she would support scrapping the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, or protections for abortion rights.
“I am not here on a mission to destroy the Affordable Care Act,” Barrett said. “I’m just here to apply the law and adhere to the rule of law.”
Democrats wisely avoided attacking Barrett over her devout Catholicism, depriving Republicans of the culture war moment they craved. Knowing they don’t have the votes to block Barrett’s confirmation, Democrats focused on elevating healthcare as an election issue by highlighting an upcoming case that could spell the end of Obamacare.
They also tried to heap pressure on Barrett to recuse herself from any election-related disputes given Trump has said explicitly that he wanted a ninth justice on the court in case the election goes to the Supreme Court. Barrett said she would decide on recusal only after consulting with colleagues and considering the specifics of the case.
The bad news for Democrats is that the seat previously filled by a beloved progressive icon will now belong to a conservative. They’re incensed at Republican hypocrisy, given Republicans refused to hold hearings four years ago for Barack Obama’s nominee on the grounds it was an election year.
The good news for them is that there’s no sign that Barrett’s confirmation hearings have transformed the election campaign or boosted Trump’s chances of winning a second term. Conservatives excited by her nomination were going to vote for Trump anyway.
Compared to the explosive Brett Kavanaugh hearings, held just before the 2018 midterm elections, Barrett’s confirmation process has been smooth and relatively uneventful. She is headed to the Supreme Court, with Trump still trailing big time in the polls.
Matthew Knott is North America correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.