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Deeply Troubling: Kristen Clarke on How Rush to Confirm Barrett Endangers Voting & Civil Rights

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The Senate confirmation hearing for President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett ended Thursday with Republicans on the Judiciary Committee scheduling a vote on her nomination for October 22, with a full Senate vote to follow shortly thereafter — less than two weeks before the presidential election, in which the Supreme Court could play a decisive role. The right-wing judge’s confirmation looks all but assured, after four rushed days of questioning in which Barrett refused to state her position on abortion rights, gay marriage, the Affordable Care Act, voting rights, climate change, and even if President Trump could delay the election. If confirmed, she gives conservatives a 6-3 majority on the high court. “We have never had a president put forth a nomination and commence confirmation hearings in the middle of an ongoing presidential election,” says Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

The Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett ended Thursday with the right-wing judge’s confirmation looking all but assured, after four rushed days of questioning in which Barrett refused to state her position on abortion rights, on same-sex marriage, on the Affordable Care Act, on voting rights, climate change, and even if President Trump could delay the election. If confirmed, Barrett will give conservatives a 6-to-3 majority on the high court.

The hearings’ final day kicked off with Senate Republicans in the Judiciary Committee voting to schedule a vote on Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation for October 22nd. Republican Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham called for a vote before the hearing had even finished and without enough Democrats present in the room. Senator Dick Durbin, the sole Democrat present, attempted to adjourn the meeting in response.

SEN. DICK DURBIN: Mr. Chairman?


SEN. DICK DURBIN: You cannot conduct that business without another minority member present. And so, at this point, I’m going to make a motion to adjourn this meeting until we have completed the hearing on Amy Coney Barrett. We still have a panel before us. This is unprecedented. We have never done this before as a committee. And if we are going to honor the rules and show mutual respect, the fact is, we cannot move forward. …

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Senator Durbin, with all due respect, we’ve had this problem in the past. We’re dealing with it the way we are today. If we create this problem for you in the future, you’re going to do what I’m going to do, which is move forward on the business of the committee. On the motion, the clerk will call the roll.

AMY GOODMAN: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the move solidified, quote, “the illegitimacy of this sham process,” unquote. If the Senate Judiciary Committee approves Judge Barrett’s confirmation on October 22nd, the full Senate could vote on whether or not to confirm her as early as October 26 — just about a week before Election Day. This has never happened before. Senate Majority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell said Thursday Republicans have the votes needed to confirm her. On Thursday, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut moved to suspend the hearing indefinitely.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: I move to indefinitely postpone the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett —

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: No, we’re not.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: — to be an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. I believe that this rushed sham process is a disservice to our committee. She has been rushed in a way that is historically unprecedented. There’s never been a nomination in an election year after the month of July. And the purpose of doing it is simply to have a justice on the Supreme Court, as the president said, to decide the election and to strike down the Affordable Care Act. We’ve had inadequate time to review this nomination — as indicated most recently yesterday, a CNN report that there are seven more speeches or talks that she has given that have not been disclosed to this committee. The consequence of this rushed process is that we’ve given inadequate scrutiny to this nominee. I move to delay these proceedings so that we can do our job.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Blumenthal was referencing a CNN report that revealed Judge Barrett did not disclose seven talks recorded on the University of Notre Dame Law School’s public calendar, including one with an anti-choice group in 2007. CNN also uncovered evidence she gave two talks in 2013 to anti-choice groups at the school. Under Senate rules, Barrett is required to provide a list of all public talks she’s given in her professional career.

Blumenthal’s motion to suspend the hearing indefinitely was denied along party lines. Despite outcry from Democrats about the rushed nomination process and how Judge Barrett’s role on the court could end healthcare for millions and threaten Roe v. Wade, California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein ended the hearing thanking Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham for his leadership.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Mr. Chairman, I just want to thank you. This has been one of the best set of hearings that I’ve participated in, and I want to thank you for your fairness.

AMY GOODMAN: The 87-year-old ranking Democrat then hugged Graham, who has refused to be tested for the coronavirus. Neither of them wore masks.

Well, for more, we go to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. She testified at Judge Barrett’s confirmation hearing on Thursday.

Kristen, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. Why don’t you start off — this is just after you yourself have testified, remotely because of COVID, at this hearing — start off by talking about the significance of what you heard this week and also what has actually taken place here, the unprecedented nature of this taking place as people are voting all over the country for the next president of the United States?

KRISTEN CLARKE: Well, thank you for having me.

This is a historic nomination because this has never happened before. We have never had a president put forth a nomination and commence confirmation hearings in the middle of an ongoing presidential election. According to Michael McDonald, who runs the Elections Project, as of yesterday, about 20 million Americans have cast their ballots. And for many of those Americans, those may be people for whom the Supreme Court is top of mind. Those are people who are exercising their right to determine who will be president and who will sit in those senatorial seats to carry out the constitutional role of filling a Supreme Court vacancy. Throughout our nation’s history, presidents have respected the fact that the voters deserve voice in this process, which is why we have never seen a nomination take place at this moment. There are two instances that Senator Graham talked about in which vacancies were filled late in the year. Those were vacancies filled by presidents who were actually reelected, one of whom was reelected and that president’s party also gained a deeper majority in the Senate. So, I want to just underscore how unprecedented this moment is, because it truly politicizes the Supreme Court in dangerous ways, in ways that may undermine the public’s confidence and faith in the court.

We also cannot ignore President Trump’s prerogative — President Trump’s objective here. He has made very clear that he wants a full nine-member court to decide any disputes which he anticipates may or may not arise from this election. He wants a nine-member court in place by November 10th to hear the Affordable Care Act case. So, that loomed heavy this week throughout the hearings.

I thought that what happened yesterday morning was incredibly important. Senator Blumenthal put forth a motion to suspend the process. They raced forward this week in the middle of a pandemic. They started the process on a federal holiday. They did so while the Senate actually was in recess. They’ve turned attention away from the emergency needs that the public faces in the middle of the pandemic to turn attention to this. And as you noted, it’s continuing to surface that there are aspects of her record that have not yet surfaced. The senator’s motion ultimately failed, and the hearing went forward, but I thought that it was important that we had an opportunity to shine a light on what a broken process this is, what a rushed process this is. We’re talking about a lifetime seat on our nation’s highest court, and that should be a seat filled after the Senate is able to carefully — carefully — carry out its duty to provide advice and consent by thoroughly looking at and examining every aspect of her record, leaving no stone unturned.

That said, Amy, my organization, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, conducted a thorough examination of her record, at least the record that has been made public. We looked at her speeches during her time of Notre Dame, her writings, and her opinions during her short tenure on the 7th Circuit. We found that she failed the second prong of our standard, which looks to determine whether or not the nominee is someone who will bring an exceptional commitment to enforcement of our federal civil rights laws and the Constitution.

And what was really striking this week was to see Judge Barrett go to great lengths to distance herself from the reality of voting discrimination that we face in our country. She was asked basic questions: Is voter intimidation illegal? And she would not agree to this proposition. And voter intimidation is plainly illegal under Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act. It violates federal criminal laws. She was asked whether voting discrimination is ongoing. This was during questioning with Senator Harris. And she refused to answer that question, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to her questioning on this issue by Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: Last week, a contractor from outside of my state of Minnesota started recruiting “poll watchers” with Special Forces experience, mm-hmm, to protect polling locations in my state. This was clear voter intimidation. Similar efforts are going on around the country, solicited by President Trump’s false claims of massive voter fraud. … So, as a result of his claims, people are trying to get “poll watchers,” Special Forces people, to go to the polls. Judge Barrett, under federal law, is it illegal to intimidate voters at the polls?

JUDGE AMY CONEY BARRETT: Senator Klobuchar, I can’t characterize the facts in a hypothetical situation, and I can’t apply the law to a hypothetical set of facts. I can only decide cases as they come to me litigated by parties, on a full record, after fully engaging precedent, talking to colleagues, writing an opinion. And so, I can’t answer questions like that.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Judge Barrett. The significance of this response, Kristen Clarke?

KRISTEN CLARKE: Well, there is nothing hypothetical about voter intimidation. We are in the middle of an election season where we know voter suppression is alive and well. We’ve heard the reports about intimidating poll watchers showing up at satellite voting centers in Philadelphia. And voter intimidation, sadly, has been a stain on our democracy throughout our nation’s history. So it was deeply troubling that Judge Barrett was unwilling to acknowledge basic aspects about American life, that the right to vote is central, but that the right to vote has been under attack for Black people, for Latinos and for communities of color, that voter intimidation is real. I could accept aspects of her response, that, you know, I’d need to actually look at a particular scenario in order to determine whether or not it violates the Constitution or federal law, but to not tell the American public that she would come to the bench with a basic understanding that voting discrimination is real, that voter intimidation does happen, is deeply, deeply troubling.

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