Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett grilled on Chicago, Illinois cases at Senate hearing
Sen. Dick Durbin told Judge Barrett there is an “orange cloud over your nomination as it comes before us.”
WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett — confirmed for her Chicago-based 7th Circuit Court of Appeals seat on Oct. 31, 2017 — cranked out 79 opinions and seven dissents in almost three years, according to a Congressional Research Service report.
With her confirmation all but certain, that judicial record, spawned in Chicago from cases originating in Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana, provides the most relevant clues of what kind of justice Barrett will be on the Supreme Court.
Senators on Wednesday quizzed Barrett on hot-button cases from the city, Cook County, and the state of Illinois — dealing with aspects of abortion, immigration, free speech, and the exercise of religion — at the last of two days of questioning.
The landmark Illinois Janus vs. AFSCME case — where the Supreme Court overturned what had been considered settled law allowing public employee unions to collect fees from non-members — also came up, when Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, tried to pry from Barrett her views on judicial reliance on precedents.
The Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday session ended with Barrett, who lives in South Bend and commutes to Chicago when she needs to be in court, offering little new information and declining to go beyond the confines of what was already on the record.
Democrats continued to make the case that President Donald Trump is pushing to get Barrett on the court by Nov. 10, a week after the election, so she could hear the GOP-led challenge to the Affordable Care Act which Trump and the Republicans have been trying to overturn.
“They need that ninth justice, and that’s why it has to be hurried,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. “Unfortunately that is the cloud, the orange cloud over your nomination as it comes before us.”
Durbin did not use Trump’s name, but the reference could be to the shade of the president’s hair or the color of the face makeup Trump uses.
Senators also combed through Barrett’s 7th Circuit record, quizzing her on cases including:
• Cook County vs. the Department of Homeland Security
On June 10, Judge Diane Wood, appointed by President Bill Clinton, and Ilana Rovner, who was tapped by President Ronald Reagan, voted to block the DHS rule that would have, as Wood wrote, “prevent immigrants whom the Executive Branch deems likely to receive public assistance in any amount, at any point in the future, from entering the country or adjusting their immigration status.”
Barrett dissented, writing that this “public charge” case does not impact immigrants “entitled” to receive public benefits.
Hirono said that “everyone seems to agree that this rule is having a chilling effect nationwide among families affecting access to health care, nutrition, food, housing, benefits that Congress meant to make available.”
Barrett said that “the laborious study that I did in the public charge case responded to the arguments the parties made.”
• Price vs. the city of Chicago
Abortion-rights advocates fear Barrett, who is anti-abortion, if given the chance will erode or overturn the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision.
Barrett’s pro-life GOP defenders on the committee, including Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, used the Chicago case to buttress an argument that Barrett can be impartial, set aside her personal views and follow Supreme Court precedents.
That the anti-abortion forces lost — well, Republicans on the Senate panel tried to turn that to their advantage.
On July 2, the Supreme Court declined to take up Price vs. Chicago, a challenge to a city ordinance clearing a 50-foot buffer zone in front of abortion clinics from anti-abortion protesters. They went to court, arguing their free speech rights were violated.
Barrett and Judge Diane Sykes, appointed by President George W. Bush, along with a Wisconsin district court judge added to the panel, upheld Chicago’s buffer zones.
“Your record on the 7th Circuit shows you were able to set aside your personal convictions,” said Lee, because “that’s what you’ve done.”
• Illinois Republican Party vs. J.B. Pritzker
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., brought up a COVID-19-related case against Democrat Pritzker, who was sued by the Illinois Republican Party over his crowd restriction orders. The suit argued the orders violated the right of free exercise of religion.
On Sept. 3, a panel of judges — Barrett, Wood and Trump-nominated Judge Amy St. Eve — ruled against the state GOP.
Hawley, who asked Barrett to explain the decision, pivoted and used the case to discuss a sizzling issue for Republicans: caps on gatherings during the pandemic.
“In this time, we see many challenges to the rights of religious organizations to meet freely,” he said.