Amy Coney Barrett, Donald Trump’s third Supreme Court nominee, insisted she had no “agenda” as she dodged US senators’ questions about how her views on abortion, healthcare and gun rights could influence her judicial decisions.

On the second day of Senate confirmation hearings, Ms Barrett insisted she had an open mind about issues before the Supreme Court, including an upcoming challenge to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Democrats have sought in the hearings to focus attention on healthcare, with less than a month to go before the presidential election. On November 10, the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments regarding the Affordable Care Act, which it has previously upheld by a narrow majority.

“I am not hostile to the ACA, I am not hostile to any statute that you pass,” Ms Barrett said, adding that her past criticisms of Supreme Court rulings upholding the ACA concerned different legal questions than posed in the latest challenge.

Later, she reiterated: “I’m not here on a mission to destroy the Affordable Care Act, I’m just here to apply the law and adhere to the rule of law.”

Ms Barrett, who is set to tilt the Supreme Court further to the right if confirmed as expected, is likely to be installed by the Republican-controlled Senate before the November 3 general election.

Mr Trump has said that the accelerated process to confirm Ms Barrett before polling day was needed to ensure she could rule on any potential election disputes.

On Tuesday, Ms Barrett said she had not spoken to the president or anyone else at the White House about how she might rule on the ACA, which the Trump administration is seeking to strike down, or on any election dispute.

She declined to promise to recuse herself if the Supreme Court was ultimately asked to effectively decide the outcome of the presidential election, saying she would weigh any recusal issues in accordance with judicial rules.

“Let me be clear, I have made no commitment to anyone, not in this Senate, not over at the White House, about how I would decide any case,” she told Patrick Leahy, the Democratic senator from Vermont.

Earlier, Ms Barrett demurred when asked by Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate judiciary committee, about whether Mr Trump could delay the election, an idea he raised earlier this year.

“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,” she said.

Later, Ms Barrett addressed the question of an election dispute more directly: “I certainly hope that all members of the committee have more confidence in my integrity than to think that I would allow myself to be used as a pawn to decide this election for the American people.”

Ms Barrett, a federal appellate judge, would if confirmed give the Supreme Court a 6-3 majority of Republican-appointed justices, and open the door for more far-reaching changes to US law on gun rights, corporate regulation and abortion.

Like other high court nominees before her, she declined to give substantive answers to questions about legal issues, including the right to abortion. But she sought to reassure the committee that her personal views as a devout Catholic would not colour her decisions on the bench.

In an initial round of questioning by Lindsey Graham, the Republican chairman of the judiciary committee, Ms Barrett issued a personal defence of her character, arguing that her Catholic faith had been “caricatured” in the media.

“I’ve made distinct choices. I’ve 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,” she told the Senate judiciary committee.

“I’ve never tried in my personal life to impose my choices on [others]. And the same is true professionally,” she said.

Ms Feinstein pressed Ms Barrett on whether she agreed with the view of the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia that Roe vs Wade, which enshrined the right to an abortion, was wrongly decided.

Ms Barrett, who clerked for Scalia at the outset of her legal career, has said that she shared his judicial philosophy of adhering to the original text and meaning of the Constitution.

“I don’t have any agenda, I have no agenda to try to overrule Casey, I have an agenda to stick to the rule of law,” she said, referring to a later Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood vs Casey, that affirmed abortion rights.

“If I were confirmed, you would be getting Justice Barrett, not Justice Scalia,” she added. “I don’t think that anybody should assume that just because Justice Scalia decided a decision, a certain way, that I would too.”

Amy Klobuchar, the Democratic senator from Minnesota, interrogated Ms Barrett about her views on precedent, in particular the idea of “superprecedent” or cases that effectively could not be overturned, and whether Roe vs Wade fell into that category.

“I’m answering a lot of questions about Roe, which I think indicates that Roe doesn’t fall in that category,” Ms Barrett responded.

“That doesn’t mean that Roe should be overruled. But descriptively it does mean that it’s not a case that everyone has accepted,” she said.

Dick Durbin, the Democrat from Illinois, pressed Ms Barrett on a dissent she wrote as a judge in a gun rights case, where she argued against a federal ban on gun ownership by convicted felons.

Ms Barrett in that case argued that the ban should not apply to those convicted of non-violent felonies, contrasting what she said was the government’s limited authority to strip away the right to gun ownership with its broader authority to remove the right to vote.

“So you’re saying that a felony should not disqualify Ricky from buying an AK 47 but using a felony conviction someone’s past to deny them the right to vote is all right?” Mr Durbin asked, referencing the defendant in the case.

“What I said was that the Constitution contemplates that states have the freedom to deprive felons of the right to vote,” said Ms Barrett. “But I expressed no view on whether that was a good idea.”

Mr Durbin also asked her about the killing of George Floyd, which Ms Barrett said had affected her family deeply, in particular because two of her children are adopted from Haiti.

“As you might imagine, given that I have two black children that was very, very personal for my family,” she said. “[It] has been an ongoing conversation. It’s a difficult one for us like it is for Americans all over the country.”


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