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Why Durbin sees Barrett nomination as a ‘big problem for America’

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is conducting Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing this week. On Tuesday, lawmakers questioned Barrett about her judicial philosophy and legal opinions of cases on gun ownership, health care and abortion, among other topics. Durbin joins Judy Woodruff to discuss what he learned from the session.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We hear now from two prominent senators on the Judiciary Committee.

    And we begin with Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois.

    Senator, thank you for being with us.

    Tell us what your overall impression is so far of Judge Barrett.

  • Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill:

    Well, I can tell you that we have — on the Democratic side have tried to make it as clear as can be that what the president has promised in this nominee is going to be a big problem for America.

    The notion that we would lose coverage under the Affordable Care Act, or that she would somehow be the president's advocate when it comes to an election contest are really serious charges.

    So, today, we have seen a series of questions asked of Judge Barrett about those two important issues.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what have you learned in listening to her answers?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    Well, a number of things.

    She has denied in every aspect that she's made any promises to anyone as to how she will vote as a judge, but she has noted the fact that many have raised the question of recusal. In other words, would she excuse herself from decision-making on the court on certain subjects?

    She has not clearly said one way tore the other, but has opened up the possibility of engaging in that process, particularly when it comes to the question of any election contest following November 3.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We did hear her — we heard that, Senator.

    We also heard her repeatedly cite when Justices Ginsburg and Kagan in their confirmation hearings declined to answer questions. She quoted them and said they wouldn't answer these questions. I can't answer these questions.

    Did you expect her to go further than she did?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    For better or worse, Judy, that's really what we have come to expect on the Judiciary Committee.

    There are just a lot of efforts to avoid saying anything, pro or con, about any case that either might come up in the future or those in the past.

    Now, there was an exception. I asked her about some opinions that she had written, a dissenting opinion in particular, in Kanter vs. Barr. And she made it clear that she felt that was fair game. We had a lengthy exchange on that important case when it came to the issue of permissions to purchase guns.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I did want to ask you about that, because you did spend some time with her on guns. We had learned from her earlier in the hearing that she does own a gun.

    Did you come away with a better understanding of how she would rule on gun rights or gun control cases?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    Well, she said something which is troublesome. And no other circuit in the federal judiciary agrees with her position.

    She believes that, where we say you can't purchase a gun if you have committed a felony or have mental illness, she would be more specific and make it a violent felony. And I think that she's gone too far, certainly further than the statute considered.

    And it would be worrisome. I made it clear to her she lives in the state of Indiana, right around the corner from Chicago, and a lot of crime guns make their way from Indiana to Chicago. I don't want to make it any easier for people to purchase guns that are used in the commission of crime.

    And I think the standard she came up with is problematic and troublesome.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I also heard you drawing a contrast between her position with regard to felons owning a gun, and then with regard to felons being given the right to vote.

    What did you discern from that?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    Well, it's interesting.

    The senator from Missouri came back this afternoon with questions, we say in the courtroom, to rehabilitate the witness, where she — I tried to raise that question. Why is it that, if you have committed a felony, you can take away a person's right to vote, but if you committed a felony, not a violent felony, under her interpretation, you could still purchase a firearm?

    We went back and forth on that. I'm not sure, based on her latest question, where she stands.

    But it troubles me to think that a person committing a felony would not be allowed to vote, but would be allowed to purchase a firearm if it were not a violent felony. That's a standard which I find very difficult to understand.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you believe she would do, Senator, with regard to the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    I don't know, but I can tell you that senator after senator on our side has pointed to two very explicit things that she has written on the only two cases interpreting the Affordable Care Act.

    And both of them were critical of the court's effort to keep the Affordable Care Act alive. If she, in fact, is chosen and moves forward and is sitting by November the 10th, she will be engaged in just a few days in the oral argument that will lead to the life or death of this important law that 23 million Americans count on.

    And it worries us, because all that she's written so far has been critical of the act.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is there anything that Democrats can do at this point, Senator, to prevent this nomination from going forward, from having — from her being confirmed?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    Judy, if one Republican senator on the Judiciary Committee decided not to go along with the others, that would stop the nomination, or at least slow it down.

    If two Republican senators joined the two that have said publicly they're not going to be part of this process, then we would at least be able to hold this decision back until after the election.

    I think that's a fair thing to do. Let the American people make the choice for the next president. Let that president fill the vacancy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Conversely, is there any chance you see that a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee would — could vote for her?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    I can't say that. We haven't gone through the whole roster of Democratic senators asking questions. And we have another day of it tomorrow.

    So, I haven't heard any indication from any senator that they're going to support her. Most of them are holding back until they complete the investigation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what about the ability of Democrats, Senator, to slow this down, to, in some way, delay a vote until after the election?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    There is no way to do that. Under the rules, we can delay it for a period of time, a limited period of time, one week in — to be specific. But that would not stop the vote that is scheduled before the election.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, finally, Senator, what is your goal between now and the end of this hearing?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    We want the American people to understand what's at stake here.

    This is not just another judge on another court. It's a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land.

    President Obama — President — I'm sorry. President Trump has promised us over and over again that, if he can fill this vacancy, certain things are going to happen, that Roe vs. Wade will be overturned, that the Affordable Care Act would be overturned, and that he would have some advocate on the bench if there's an election contest.

    I'm sorry that he involved himself in this. That's where we are today. The American people understand it. They will understand why we're asking these questions.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Dick Durbin, we thank you very much.

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    Thanks very much, Judy.

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