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Coney Barrett silent on recusal in election cases

October 13, 2020

Amy Coney Barrett refused to say if she'd step aside if the 2020 election were contested at the Supreme Court. She also refused to answer questions about how she'd rule on issues such as abortion and voting rights.

Amy Coney Barrett in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing
Image: Shawn Thew/CNP/picture-alliance

Supreme Court Nominee Amy Coney Barrett faced Senators on Tuesday for a second day of confirmation hearings, where she was quizzed on how she would vote and whether she had commitments to US President Donald Trump, who nominated her for the lifetime appointment. 

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have four days to engage with Barrett on her nomination, which will then be subject to a vote on whether or not it should proceed to the full chamber.  

Since the committee has a Republican majority, her nomination is expected to reach the Senate by the end of the month. Republicans have sought to fill the seat before the November 3 election. 

Read more: Who is US Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett?

No recusal on election cases

On the question of whether she would recuse herself from any possible cases arising from the 2020 election, the 48-year-old appellate court judge declined to answer. 

''I can't offer an opinion on recusal without short-circuiting that entire process,'' Barrett said. 

Critics of her nomination have warned that the president is moving swiftly with her nomination to ensure he has a vote in his favor in case the election is contested. 

They pointed to comments made by Trump last month, when he said he believed the election would "end up in the Supreme Court" and that he thought it was "very important that we have nine Justices."

But Barrett told lawmakers that no one at the White House had sought a commitment from her on how she would rule on that or any other issue. 

"It would be a gross violation of judicial independence for me to make any such commitment or for me to be asked about that case," Barrett said. 

Read more: Opinion: Donald Trump opts for a lurch to the right in the Supreme Court

'Not hostile' to Obamacare

Barrett also declined to say whether she would consider recusing herself from an upcoming Supreme Court case on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a health care law dubbed "Obamacare," which Republicans at the federal and state level have sought to defeat since its inception. 

Democrats have accused Republicans of rushing Barrett's nomination in order to kill the law and leave millions without health insurance in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.  

Although Barrett has cited expressed legal issues with two previous rulings that upheld the law, she said the upcoming case, to be heard after the presidential election, centers on a different legal issue.  

She declined to say how she would rule but told lawmakers that she was "not hostile to the ACA." 

Silent on abortion, voting rights

Barrett refused to answer questions about how she would rule on a variety of issues critical to US politics, such as abortion, voting rights and gay marriage, among others. 

She said it would be a violation of judicial independence to make a commitment on how she'd rule. 

But Barrett did reiterate her conservative legal philosophy known as originalism, in which laws and the Constitution are interpreted based on the meaning they had at the time they were enacted.  

"That meaning doesn't change over time and it's not up to me to update it or infuse my policy views on it," she told the committee. 

Pressed on whether or not she believed Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established the right to abortion, should be struck down, Barrett declined to answer.  

She told the committee, however, that she did not seek to join the Supreme Court with an ''agenda'' on abortion rights, pledging to ''stick to the rule of law and decide cases as they come.''

Read more:Evangelicals: Donald Trump's anti-abortion base 

US evangelicals and abortion

jcg/dr (AP, Reuters)