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Affordable Care Act, voting rights in spotlight on Day 3 of Barrett hearing

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee spent Wednesday completing their questioning of Amy Coney Barrett at her Supreme Court confirmation hearing. While senators pressed again for answers on a range of issues, the nominee largely avoided committing herself. And given Barrett’s support among the Republican majority, her confirmation appeared to be all but guaranteed. John Yang reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    U.S. senators have wrapped up their interrogation of Amy Coney Barrett at her Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

    And while members of the Senate Judiciary Committee pressed again for answers today, the nominee largely avoided committing herself.

    John Yang has our report.

  • John Yang:

    On Capitol Hill, a final day of questioning for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

    Senators pressed Barrett on issues like voting rights, abortion and the future of the Affordable Care Act, or ACA.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.:

    This hearing has been more about Obamacare than it has you.

  • John Yang:

    The court is to hear a challenge to former President Barack Obama's health care law next month. Republicans pushed back against Democrats' arguments that Barrett would help a 6-3 conservative court overturn the ACA.

  • Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa:

    Democrats' strategy continues to be to use scare tactics, distortions, and speculation.

  • Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas:

    It's not fair, is it, to suggest that, by confirming you to this position, you're somehow going to adversely impact the lives of these individuals?

  • Amy Coney Barrett:

    Well, as I said yesterday, what I can say is that I have certainly no agenda. I'm not on a mission. I'm not hostile to the ACA at all. And if I were on the court and if a case involving the ACA came before me, I would approach it with an open mind, just like I do every case.

  • President Donald Trump:

    What we want to do is terminate it and give great health care.

  • John Yang:

    Eighteen Republican-led states and the Trump administration are challenging the law's individual coverage mandate. If the court agrees, the justices could strike down the entire law through a legal doctrine called severability, finding that the mandate is so central to the law that it cannot be severed from it.

  • Amy Coney Barrett:

    So, if you picture severability being like a Jenga game, it's kind of, if you pull one out, can you pull it out while it all stands?

  • John Yang:

    Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina sought to blunt Democrats' arguments that a Justice Barrett would necessarily mean the entire law would be doomed.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham:

    The main thing is the doctrine of severability has a presumption to save the stature if possible; is that correct?

  • Amy Coney Barrett:

    That is correct.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham:

    And would it be further true that, if you can preserve a statute, you try to, to the extent possible?

  • Amy Coney Barrett:

    That is true.

  • John Yang:

    He especially sought to counter suggestions that Barrett would be an automatic vote to overturn the landmark case of Roe vs. Wade, which guarantees the right to an abortion.

    As a law professor, she appeared to suggest it was wrongly decided.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham:

    Reaching a case that was wrongly decided doesn't end the debate in terms of whether or not it should be repealed; is that correct?

  • Amy Coney Barrett:

    That is correct.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham:

    And there's a very rigorous process in place to overturn precedent?

  • Amy Coney Barrett:

    There is many factors, reliance being one.

  • John Yang:

    Senator Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, asked Barrett about voting rights and suppression.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.:

    My question, however, is, do you agree with Chief Justice Roberts, who said voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that?

    Do you agree with that statement?

  • Amy Coney Barrett:

    Senator Harris, I will not comment on what any justice said, an opinion, whether an opinion is right or wrong, or endorse that proposition.

    Senator, I'm not exactly sure what you're getting at with asking me to endorse the fact or whether any particular practice constitutes voter discrimination.

    I'm very happy to say that I think racial discrimination still exists in the United States, and I think we have seen evidence of that this summer. But as to engaging…

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    Do you think that voting discrimination exists, based on race, in America in any form?

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Coney Barrett:

    Senator Harris — and I don't mean to signal that I disagree with the statement either. What I mean to say is, I'm not going to express an opinion because these are very charged issues. They have been litigated in the courts. And so I will not engage on that question.

  • John Yang:

    Committee Democrats also highlighted Barrett's refusal to say she would recuse herself from any case arising from a disputed presidential election.

    Barrett, along with current Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts, was among the lawyers dispatched to Florida to work for the Republican Party in the 2000 recount.

    Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota:

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn:

    Will having justices with this background, two of whom are appointed by the current president, decide any cases related by the upcoming election, do you think that will undermine the legitimacy of the court?

  • Amy Coney Barrett:

    Asking whether something would undermine the legitimacy of the court or not seems to be trying to elicit a question about whether it would be appropriate for justices who participated in that litigation to sit on the case, rather than recuse.

    And I went down that road yesterday, saying it's a legal question.

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar:

    I know, but you said you wouldn't recuse. That's why I thought it was…

  • Amy Coney Barrett:

    That isn't what I said.

  • John Yang:

    Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont asked Barrett about President Trump's claim that he could pardon himself.

  • Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt:

    Would you agree that, first, that nobody is above the law?

  • Amy Coney Barrett:

    I agree. No one is above the law.

  • Sen. Patrick Leahy:

    Does a president have an absolute right to pardon himself for a crime?

  • Amy Coney Barrett:

    So far as I know, that question has never been litigated, that question has never risen. That question may or may not arise, but it's one that calls for a legal analysis of what the scope of the pardon power is.

  • John Yang:

    With even Democrats speaking of Barrett as A future justice, the outcome of the hearings is a largely foregone conclusion.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas:

    Judge Barrett is going to be confirmed by this committee and by the full Senate.

  • John Yang:

    Today, Graham said Barrett's nomination is a milestone for conservative women.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham:

    The first time in American history that we have nominated a woman who is unashamedly pro-life and embraces her faith without apology, and she's going to the court.

  • John Yang:

    Tomorrow, on the fourth and final scheduled day of hearings, senators will hear from legal scholars and other outside witnesses selected by committee Democrats and Republicans to weigh in on Barrett's nomination.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang.

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