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On Day 2 of her confirmation hearing, Barrett sidesteps politically charged questions

The Senate Judiciary Committee pressed Judge Amy Coney Barrett for answers on hot-button issues Tuesday, the second day of her confirmation hearing. Senators asked the Supreme Court nominee about her judicial philosophy, her opinions of court precedent on abortion and the Affordable Care Act and whether she would recuse herself from any cases resulting from the election. John Yang reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The questions have been coming all day, literally, for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have pressed for answers, with mixed results. John Yang begins our coverage.

  • John Yang:

    Front and center in Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation hearing today, some of the country's biggest hot button issues.

  • Amy Coney Barrett:

    Judges can't just wake up one day and say, I have an agenda, I like guns, I hate guns, I like abortion, I hate abortion, and you have to wait for cases and controversies.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.:

    It's distressing not to get a straight answer.

  • John Yang:

    Tensions rose as senators pressed Judge Barrett, a mentee of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, on how Justice Barrett might affect Americans' lives.

  • Amy Coney Barrett:

    My personal views don't have anything to do with how I would decide cases, and I don't want anybody to be unclear about that. If I'm confirmed, you would not be getting Justice Scalia. You would be getting Justice Barrett.

  • John Yang:

    Under questioning from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Barrett talked about some of those views.

  • Amy Coney Barrett:

    I have tried to be on a media blackout for the sake of my mental health, but you can't keep yourself walled off from everything. And I'm aware of a lot of the caricatures that are floating around.

    So, I think what I would like to say in response to that question is that, look, I have made distinct choices. I have decided to pursue a career and have a large family. I have a multiracial family. Our faith is important to us.

    All of those things are true, but they are my choices. And in my personal interactions with people, I mean, I have a life brimming with people who have made different choices. And I have never tried in my personal life to impose my choices on them.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.:

    Can you set aside whatever Catholic beliefs you have regarding any issue before you?

  • Amy Coney Barrett:

    I can. I have done that in my time on the Seventh Circuit. If I stay on the Seventh Circuit, I will continue to do that. If I'm confirmed to the Supreme Court, I will do that still.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham:

    When it comes to your personal views about this topic, do you own a gun?

  • Amy Coney Barrett:

    We do own a gun.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham:

    All right. Do you think you could fairly decide a case even though you own a gun?

  • Amy Coney Barrett:

    Yes.

  • John Yang:

    In 2019, as a federal appeals court judge, Barrett wrote that convicted felons should not automatically be denied the right to own a gun.

    Like previous nominees, Barrett declined to say if the landmark case Roe vs. Wade, which guaranteed the right to an abortion, was wrongly decided, a view she expressed as a law professor.

    Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the panel's top Democrat, questioned her on the issue.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein:

    So let me try again. Do you agree with Justice Scalia's view that Roe was wrongly decided?

  • Amy Coney Barrett:

    I have no agenda to try to overrule Casey. I have an agenda to stick to the rule of law and decide cases as they come.

  • John Yang:

    Later, under questioning by Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, Barrett said Roe is not so widely accepted to be considered a super-precedent.

  • Amy Coney Barrett:

    I'm answering a lot of questions about Roe, which I think indicates that Roe doesn't fall in that category. And scholars across the spectrum say that doesn't mean that Roe should be overruled. But, descriptively, it does mean that it's not a case that everyone's accepted and doesn't call for its overruling.

  • Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah:

    To my colleagues on the other side of the aisle who are fearmongering on this…

  • John Yang:

    Republicans pushed back on Democrats' arguments that a Justice Barrett would help a 6-3 conservative court overturn the Affordable Care Act, or ACA. The court is to hear a challenge to the law on November 10.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham:

    All of you over there want to impose Obamacare in South Carolina. We don't want it.

  • John Yang:

    As a law professor, Barrett criticized Chief Justice John Roberts' reasoning for his 2012 ruling that upheld central pillars of Barack Obama's health care law, writing in a 2017 law review article that he pushed "the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute."

  • Amy Coney Barrett:

    I was not attacking Chief Justice Roberts or impugning his character or anything of that sort. It was an academic critique.

    And I have not made any commitments or deals or anything like that. I'm not here on a mission to destroy the Affordable Care Act. I'm just here to apply the law.

  • John Yang:

    Barrett declined to say if she would recuse herself from either the ACA case, which President Trump says he hopes results in overturning the law…

  • Amy Coney Barrett:

    Well, Senator, recusal itself is a legal issue.

  • John Yang:

    … or from any case that might arise from the presidential election.

  • Amy Coney Barrett:

    I have had no conversation with the president or any of his staff on how I might rule.

  • John Yang:

    She also sidestepped questions about the president's comments about the election's fairness.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein:

    Does the Constitution give the president of the United States the authority to unilaterally delay a general election under any circumstances? Does federal law?

  • Amy Coney Barrett:

    If that question ever came before me, I would need to hear arguments from the litigants and read briefs and consult with my law clerks and talk to my colleagues and go through the opinion writing process.

    So, if I give off-the-cuff answers, then I would be, basically, a legal pundit, and I don't think we want judges to be legal pundits.

  • John Yang:

    Republicans like John Cornyn of Texas strongly defended her.

  • Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas:

    Attacking somebody for their faith and suggesting that that disqualifies them from holding a public office is the attack that is being made on judicial independence.

  • John Yang:

    Tomorrow, Barrett is to face another long day of questions from senators.

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

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