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WATCH: Judge Amy Coney Barrett is in a ‘category of excellence,’ Sen. Graham says

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham says Judge Amy Coney Barrett is in a “category of excellence” as a law professor and legal scholar.

Sen. Graham delivered his opening statement on Day 1 of Judge Barrett’s confirmation hearings on Oct. 12. Watch in the video player above.

Graham, R-S.C., praised Barrett as he opened Supreme Court confirmation hearing before the Republican-led panel. Barring a dramatic development, Republicans appear to have the votes to confirm the 48-year-old conservative appellate judge to a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court.

Graham acknowledged “the COVID problem in America is real,″ but said, “We do have a country that needs to move forward safely.” Barrett was wearing a face mask, as were all the roughly 100 people in the cavernous hearing room.

WATCH LIVE: Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing – Day 1

Graham cited Barrett’s testimony that she follows the judicial philosophy of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom she clerked two decades ago. He called that a good summary of “who Amy Barrett is in terms of the law.″

Graham acknowledged the hearings are likely to be contentious, but said he hopes they do replicate the divisive hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh. “She doesn’t deserve that,″ Graham said. ”The American people I don’t believe deserve a repeat of those episodes.”