Pick a cliché: “Cool as a cucumber” or “She came to play.” And perhaps the idiom that best fits the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings of Amy Coney Barrett is “It’s all over but the shouting.” Democrats know this, and so do the Republicans. However, that hasn’t stopped the political gamesmanship for those charged with putting the U.S. Supreme Court nominee through her paces.
Even so, the U.S. Court of Appeals Seventh Circuit judge appeared to breeze through the castigation and criticism by Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee as if it were just another day at the office — or, in her case, chambers. Whip-smart and focused, Barrett appeared rattle-free through day two of her confirmation hearings. She looked poised, sounded confident, and never seemed to sway from her mantra of not talking about cases that may come before her should she become the Supremes’ newest member.
Barrett admitted to setting mental-health boundaries by not dialing in to the media rhetoric. That has turned out to be a damn good strategy. Thus far, she’s been slammed for “inappropriately casual” attire. She’s been called a “shameless partisan hack who is unfit to serve on the highest court in the land” and a “horrifying pick” for the nation’s most powerful judicial body. Former Media Matters staffer Eric Boehlert let it rip with this query, “[W]hat kind of craven, awful person would even consider accepting a nomination under these circumstances.”
Censoring herself from such vitriol allowed Barrett to stay on point and come off as sincere rather than angry or bitter. However, she also appeared as a force to be reckoned with who would not let others put words in her mouth. When Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) tried to corner Barrett about an article she had written that included a comment about Supreme Court Chief Justice John Robert’s majority opinion regarding the Affordable Care Act, Barrett deftly corrected her: “I attack ideas, not people.” Liberty Nation’s Legal Affairs Editor Scott Cosenza noted the judge’s agile mind and skillful responses:
“Showing grace under fire, Judge Barrett gave committee Democrats no quarter when they attempted to characterize her criticism of an opinion written by Justice Roberts. She politely, yet continually and without fail, corrected each of them that she did not attack the man, but simply criticized his opinion. Instead of leaving viewers with the notion that she was critical of mainstream judicial thought, they were left instead with the idea that the questioners didn’t understand the distinction between academic legal criticism and personal attacks.”
When asked to comment on the friendship of Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Notre Dame graduate quipped, “It’s dehumanizing if we reduce people to the political or policy preferences they have.” Another winning moment for Barrett was when she was asked to hold up what she had been using to help her answer questions; she flashed a blank notepad and a disarming smirk at the committee. This witty comeback brought forth praise from Twitter fans. One wrote, “Yes, she’s THAT smart.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) — scorned for a previous remark about Judge Barrett’s Roman Catholic faith, saying, “the dogma lives loudly within you” — was forced to handle the nominee with kid gloves. Trying to play nice, Feinstein asked Barrett to introduce her children and made an obvious attempt to inveigle the judge with some girl chat before diving in to the hot topics. Try as she might, the senior senator from California couldn’t get the judge to bite and steered clear of any controversial statements. “Let’s try this, then,” was the refrain from Feinstein following Barrett’s numerous deflections until the ranking member gave up.
Several members of the Judiciary Committee did their level best to paint the honorable judge as nothing more than a female version of the late Justice Scalia. But Barrett was having none of it: “I want to be careful to say that if I am confirmed you would not be getting Justice Scalia, you would be getting Justice Barrett.”
By any measure, Barrett is not one to be trifled with as her obvious demeanor — while good-natured — is earnest and apropos the moment. She appears to understand the gravity of her words and demands that those who seek to characterize her do so correctly. Should day two of the hearings be a portent of things to come? It would be safe to end as we began — with another cliché: “They never laid a glove on her.”
Read more from Leesa K. Donner.