Senate Dems raise threat to health care as Barrett hearings open
Activists opposed to the confirmation of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, rally at Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Oct. 12, 2020. Barrett’s confirmation hearing began Monday before the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee. | Jose Luis Magana/AP

WASHINGTON—-The latest Republican dog-and-pony show, officially called Senate committee hearings on Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, opened Oct. 12 with the panel’s Democrats stating should she join the other justices, health care for at least 130 million people would be changed for the worse or killed.

That threat to the 10-year-old Affordable Care Act dominated the discussions on the first of four days of panel deliberations on Barrett, a federal appellate judge GOP President Donald Trump nominated to the High Court to succeed the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Sept. 18.

But neither the marchers outside nor the senators inside addressed the massive racial, social, and economic inequities in the U.S. economy, all exposed by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

That includes disproportionate deaths and illnesses among people of color from the coronavirus pandemic, as well as disproportionate joblessness.

Meanwhile, outside the High Court itself, and across the street from the Senate’s hearing room, demonstrators marshaled by Planned Parenthood, People for the American Way, and other progressives, massed in opposition to the Barrett nomination. Their concern was Barrett’s hostility in petitions, speeches, and law review articles, to reproductive choice.

Trump “has boasted over and over and over again that anyone he nominated” to the bench “will repeal the ACA,” Sen. Chris Coons, R-Del. “And just a week after the [Nov. 3] election, the Trump administration will tell the Supreme Court to tear down the ACA.” Trump’s regime supports the ACA-destroying lawsuit from Texas and other red states.

“I’m not suggesting you made a secret deal” with Trump, Coons told Barrett. “But your judicial philosophy,” called originalism, “has real and unfortunate consequences.”

“A judge must apply the law as it is written, not as the judge wishes it were,” Barrett responded later in her opening statement.

One unfortunate consequence, several Democrats pointed out, is that the ACA bans insurers from denying coverage from pre-existing conditions. And the pandemic, which has killed 214,882 people and seen 7.772 million people test positive, would be a pre-existing condition.

“And President Trump has explicitly stated he would nominate only judges who would overturn Roe v Wade,” the High Court’s 1973 pro-abortion decision, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., added. And the Republicans “have found a nominee who will do what they couldn’t do, overturn the ACA.”

While the Democrats concentrated on the ACA, GOP senators used their opening remarks to laud Barrett, her family, her legal scholarship, and the respect they said she receives from former colleagues at Notre Dame University, where she was a law professor before joining the Chicago-based Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals three years ago.

Two, Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, set up a separate straw man, accusing the Democrats of being anti-Catholic–Hawley and Barrett are practicing Catholics–and imposing a religious test on judicial nominees.

“The Supreme Court has become a super-legislature,” Ernst charged. Progressives “are projecting that upon you.”

Both the marchers and the Democrats oppose the GOP’s decision to rush the nomination through, completely different from the Republicans’ position four years ago when Justice Antonin Scalia, Barrett’s mentor, died. Then, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., refused to allow a vote on Democratic President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.

The marchers plan to keep protests going through all four days of the hearings—and Democratic senators, inside, urged their GOP colleagues to listen to the voices outside, and to the opposition to the rush to confirm Barrett that has flooded their e-mail boxes.

But from the remarks inside, it appears unlikely any of the panel’s 12 majority Republicans will listen and instead will approve Barrett on a straight 12-10 party-line vote.

“Amy Coney Barrett can’t run from her record. We know where she stands,” Adrienne Verrilli, Planned Parenthood’s vice president of communications, said in an e-mail several days before the hearings.

McConnell, the majority leader and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the committee chair, “and the rest of the Senate majority will move forward with their rushed, illegitimate confirmation process” for Barrett, added  Verrilli.

“They will do this despite clear messages from the American people they want the Senate to prioritize COVID-19 relief, and that whoever is elected president in November” should nominate a new justice to succeed Ginsburg.

“They will do this despite the fact that Amy Coney Barrett’s views are dangerously out of touch with most Americans’ and she holds positions that will be a direct threat to our lives and rights, including our health care and reproductive and sexual freedom.”

“But we don’t need a sound bite from Judge Barrett on Roe v. Wade or the ACA to know where she stands. Her record is crystal clear: She poses a direct and immediate threat to our reproductive health and rights and access to quality, affordable health coverage…With Judge Barrett’s record, it’s obvious she passes Trump’s litmus test.”

“Barrett is an active and vocal threat to reproductive health and rights and has suggested Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided. Yet 77% of the country supports the right to safe, legal abortion established by Roe.”

In one newspaper ad Barrett signed, Verrilli noted, she called abortion “barbaric.”

Her views are particularly dangerous while the country is in the middle of multiple public health crises, and with multiple health-related cases on the horizon. The Court is set to consider the Trump-supported lawsuit against the ACA the week after the election, and 17 abortion-related cases are just one step away from the Supreme Court — the threats a Justice Barrett would pose to our health and rights are very real.

No matter what Judge Barrett says this week, here is what you need to know about her record:

* Barrett’s hostility toward abortion rights is not in dispute. On the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, she signed a newspaper ad opposing abortion. The ad referred to Roe v. Wade’s legacy as “barbaric,” and demanded a return to legislation that prohibits abortion. The ad was created by a group that opposes in vitro fertilization and believes doctors who perform abortions should be criminalized.

* In a public speech, Barrett said that Roe “created through judicial fiat a framework of abortion on demand” that “ignited a national controversy.”

* As a judge on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Barrett’s rulings demonstrate that she might be a reliable vote in favor of restricting abortion access. She has voted to rehear cases involving abortion restrictions in which other judges had previously held the abortion restrictions at issue were unconstitutional.

* She has written that abortion is “always immoral,” and that women who have abortions are “acting with gross unfairness.”

* With 17 abortion cases just one step from the Supreme Court, Barrett’s anti-abortion views could have a grave impact on abortion access in this country. Access to abortion is hanging by a thread across the country, and for too many people — particularly Black and Brown communities forced to navigate a legacy of systemic racism and discriminatory policies — the promise of Roe is already meaningless because abortion is inaccessible. These cases could dismantle what is left.

Judge Barrett has strongly criticized major decisions upholding the Affordable Care Act — the biggest advancement for women’s health and sexual and reproductive health in a generation. The stakes could not be higher, as the Supreme Court will hear a case on the Trump-supported lawsuit to dismantle the ACA one week after Election Day.

* If confirmed, Barrett could put access to health coverage and care in jeopardy for tens of millions of people across the country, in the middle of a pandemic.

* Barrett publicly criticized the 2012 Supreme Court decision that upheld the law, writing, “Chief Justice Roberts pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute.” In 2015, on a critical Supreme Court decision, Barrett agreed with the dissenters (including Justice Scalia) who would have put an end to a core component of the ACA, saying in an interview, “I think the dissent has the better of the legal arguments.”

Judge Barrett has also been critical of the ACA’s requirement that all health plans include no-copay birth control coverage, signing a letter that misleadingly referred to contraception as including “abortion-inducing drugs.” This ACA provision has ensured birth control coverage with no out-of-pocket costs for more than 60 million people.

Barrett’s writings suggest she believes that judges should not respect precedent where there is a conflict with their judicial philosophy.

* Barrett has referred to the late Justice Scalia, who was a staunch originalist, as having an “incalculable influence” on her. Upon accepting Trump’s nomination, Barrett said about Justice Scalia, “His judicial philosophy is mine too.”

* Justice Scalia’s judicial philosophy led him to reject decades of established precedent that recognized the Due Process Clause in the Constitution as protecting substantive liberties, such as the right to contraception, abortion, or marriage equality. Indeed, Justice Scalia never voted to strike down an abortion restriction.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.