Judge Barrett’s family sat behind her during her Senate judiciary committee confirmation hearings. Two of her kids, Vivian and John Peter, are adopted from Haiti. Benjamin, Barrett’s youngest, has Down syndrome and could not be present at the hearings.
“As I said when I was nominated to serve as a justice, I’m used to being in a group of nine—my family,” Judge Barrett proclaimed. “Nothing is more important to me and I am very proud to have them behind me.”
Judge Barrett has served on the seventh circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals since 2017 and was nominated on Sept 26 by the president to fill a Supreme Court vacancy. Barrett graduated summa cum laude (with the highest distinction) from Notre Dame Law school in 1997.
After law school, Barrett clerked for D.C. Circuit Judge Laurence Silberman and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. She practiced both trial and appellate litigation in Washington, D.C. and served for fifteen years in academia, even teaching a class at Notre Dame while she served on the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Barrett said that Scalia’s reasoning shaped her through his straightforward judicial philosophy: “A judge must apply the law as it is written, not as she wishes it were.”
Judiciary Committee chair Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) opened the hearings with a statement. He attempted to call for bipartisan support of the nominee for her qualifications, while recognizing that it is unlikely that the vote will be anything but along party lines.
“To the extent possible, let’s make [the hearing] respectful, let’s make it challenging,” Graham added. “Let’s remember the world is watching.”
He continued to discuss how there were days when the Senate would vote based upon qualifications, even if they disagreed with a nominee’s personal philosophy. In support of this point, Graham stated that he never doubted for a moment that President Obama’s appointments were qualified even though he disagreed with their judicial philosophy.
Democrats on the committee attempted to make a case that Justice Barrett would rule in a conservative fashion and harm many Americans. They argued mainly that the Affordable Care Act would be struck down if Barrett was appointed to the court.
“Most importantly, healthcare coverage for millions of Americans is at stake with this nomination,” said ranking member Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in her opening statement.
Feinstein listed different groups whose health coverage is at risk if the ACA is struck down—those with pre-existing conditions, working Americans whose healthcare is covered by the ACA’s medicaid expansion and people who are on their parents’ health insurance. Additionally, Fienstein raised concerns that the repeal of the ACA would hurt women.
“Fourth, insurers could charge higher premiums for women, simply because of their gender,” Feinstien said. “Fifth, women could lose access to critical preventive services.”
On the final day of hearings, character witnesses were invited by both the Republicans and Democrats on the committee in order to testify for or against Judge Barrett’s approval. In favor of Judge Barrett were representatives from the American Bar Association which gives Judge Barrett its highest rating, along with judges and attorneys who have worked with Judge Barrett. In opposition to Judge Barrett were a civil rights attorney, a mother of twins with pre-existing conditions and a woman who shared about her attempt to obtain an abortion after being abused by her stepfather at age 16.
This woman, Crystal Good, brought up that President Trump has promised to appoint justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, and feared that Barrett is one of those judges.
“Please listen to people who have had abortions,” Good pleaded. “Hear us when we ask you not to confirm this nominee.”
Laura Wolk, who is the first blind woman to serve as a law clerk on the United States Supreme Court testified in favor of Judge Barrett. She told the story of how Barrett helped her, in a way that no one else had when she was entering her first semester at Notre Dame. When Wolk entered the school, she was left without access to the technology she needed due to bureaucratic glitches.
Wolk said she had low expectations when she entered professor Barrett’s office to ask for help.
“But Judge Barrett did something altogether different,” Wolk testified. “She sat silently, listening with deep attention as I explained my situation. She exuded calm and compassion, giving me the freedom to let down my guard and come apart.”
Wolk continued, “When I finished, Judge Barrett leaned forward and looked at me intently. ‘Laura,’ she said, with the same measured conviction that she has displayed throughout her nomination process, ‘this is no longer your problem. It’s my problem.’”
Judge Barrett truly took the promise onto herself and delivered. Wolk does not know how Barrett was able to fix the issue, but she knows that she soon had the technology she needed which enabled her to get through law school. Judge Barrett has continued to mentor and assist Wolk.
At the end of the hearings, Senator Fienstiein thanked Senator Graham for the civil hearings, saying, “This has been one of the best Senate hearings I have participated in.” The two later exchanged a maskless hug—hopefully a symbol of a broader commitment to civility despite political division.
Justice Barrett was confirmed into the Supreme Court on Oct 26, 2020.