Senators weigh COVID risk for Barrett Supreme Court hearing

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In this Oct. 1, 2020, photo, Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett, meets with Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., at the Capitol in Washington. Confirmation hearings begin Monday for President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett. If confirmed, the 48-year-old appeals court judge would fill the seat of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last month.

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett vows to be a justice “fearless of criticism” as the split Senate charges ahead with confirmation hearings on President Donald Trump’s pick to cement a conservative court majority before Election Day.

Barrett, a federal appeals court judge, draws on faith and family in her prepared opening remarks for the hearings, which begin Monday as the country is in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic. She says courts “should not try” to make policy, and believes she would bring “a few new perspectives” as the first mother of school-age children on the nine-member court.

Trump chose the 48-year-old judge after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal icon.

“I have been nominated to fill Justice Ginsburg’s seat, but no one will ever take her place,” Barrett says in her remarks to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Associated Press obtained a copy of her statement on Sunday.

Barrett says she has resolved to maintain the same perspective as her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who was “devoted to his family, resolute in his beliefs, and fearless of criticism.”

Republicans who control the Senate are moving at a breakneck pace to seat Barrett before the Nov. 3 election, in time to hear a high-profile challenge to the Affordable Care Act and any election-related challenges that may follow voting.

Democrats are trying in vain to delay the fast-track confirmation, raising fresh concerns about the safety of meeting as two GOP senators on the panel tested positive for COVID-19.

The committee released a letter from the Architect of the Capitol on Sunday that says the hearing room has been set up in consultation with the Office of Attending Physician with appropriate distance between seats and air ventilation systems that meet or exceed industry standards.

Still, California Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee who is also a committee member, plans to participate remotely from her Senate office due to coronavirus concerns, her spokesman said Sunday.

Two members who have tested positive for the virus, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., have not said if they will attend in person. Lee’s spokesman said the senator is symptom-free but would be making a decision on whether to attend Monday morning, per his doctor’s orders. A spokesman for Tillis did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Harris and others said the hearings should not move forward without plans to test those attending for COVID. One Republican, Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, said “it would be smart to do that,” according to the Des Moines Register. Aside from media, few, if any, members of the public will be allowed to attend.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York told the AP that the committee’s chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has “an obligation to be tested” for COVID-19 beforehand because he has been exposed to those with the disease.

Graham told Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures” that he took a test last week and is “negative.” He said, “We’re going to work safely.”

The hearings are taking place less than a month after the death of Ginsburg gave Trump the chance to entrench a conservative majority on the court with his third justice.

Another reason for moving quickly: It may be harder to confirm Trump’s pick before the end of the congressional session if Democrat Joe Biden were to win the White House and Democrats gain seats in the Senate. No Supreme Court has ever been confirmed so close to a presidential election.

The country will get an extended look at Barrett over three days, beginning with her opening statement late Monday and hours of questioning Tuesday and Wednesday.

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