"Brilliant." "Forthright." "Intellectual giant."
Those were some of the words used to describe Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett to the Senate Judiciary Committee. by witnesses from the American Bar Association (ABA) and Barrett allies.
Meanwhile, Democrat witnesses portrayed the 7th Circuit Judge and former professor as a threat to health care, abortion abd voting rights.
The laudatory explanation from the ABA Standing Committee of its "Well Qualified" rating for Barrett Thursday marked the start of a hearing that was delayed by procedural tactics by Democrats aimed at delaying the Barrett nomination during the committee's morning business meeting. They came before a panel of witnesses both for and against Barrett alternatively praised her as a judicial "five-tool athlete," or a threat to cause "real-world harm."
"She's a brilliant thinker. She analyzes and writes about legal issues with striking clarity and precision. She is patient, thoughtful and compassionate. She brings each of these qualities to bear on every case she decides," Amanda Rauh-Bieri, one of Barrett's former law clerks said. "She's committed above all else to the rule of law ... Judge Barrett understands that policy decisions must be left to the political branches, the role of a judge is to enforce the law as written."
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Republicans touted the ABA experts' comments from the independent group as boosting their case that Barrett should be on the Supreme Court.
"The standing committee concluded that Judge Barrett's integrity, judicial temperament, professional competence, met the very high standards for appointment to our Supreme Court," Randall D. Noel of the ABA Standing Committee said. "Our rating of 'Well Qualified' reflects the consensus of her peers that know her best."
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Pamela J. Roberts described the process the committee went through to come up with its rating for Barrett. She also reported a number of descriptions of Barrett from her peers. Those included: "good, decent, selfless and sincere," "always willing to be helpful," "good listener," "never a hint of sarcasm in her questioning," "highly productive, punctual and well-prepared," and, from a professor, "without question the smartest student I've ever taught."
Barrett has an "excellent reputation for integrity and outstanding character. Judges and lawyers alike uniformly extolled the nominee's integrity," Roberts said.
The committee then heard from eight other witnesses who have either worked with or known Barrett and laud her qualifications for the court, or who believe that Barrett poses a grave threat to their rights.
"A vote for Judge Barrett is a vote to take away health care," Stacy Staggs, a mother of twins who have preexisting conditions that she says she can afford to treat because of the ACA, said. "Our country is in a public crisis right now ... in this moment we need our legislators to ... do the job we elected them to do. We do not need to rush through the nomination of a Supreme Court justice who is on the record as hostile to the law that provides our health care."
Added Dr. Farhan Bhatti, the CEO and Medical Director of Care Free Medical: "As a doctor ... I can talk about the real-world harm of ending the ACA ... as a physician ... any judge who opposes the ACA endangers a lifeline that my patients count on to stay healthy."
Kristen Clarke, another Democrat witness and the president and executive director of the National Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, warned about the fact that Barrett would not explicitly say she would recuse herself from election-related cases.
"These are voters who want their ballots and not an election season court pick to determine an election outcome," Clarke said.
And warning about Barrett's past stances on abortion, Crystal Good, a woman who had an abortion at 16 years-old, said that she may be a vote to allow states to regulate abortion.
"I still think what might have happened," if she didn't have an abortion, Good said. "Access to abortion should not depend on the luck of the draw ... who your governor is or who is sitting on the Supreme Court."
Meanwhile, Republican witnesses recalled their personal experience with Barrett and said she is fully qualified to be on the Supreme Court.
She's "brilliant, she's a tremendous educator, she's an institutionalist, she's a role model and I'll say finally she's an originalist, and I think that's a good thing," University of Virginia School of Law Professor Saikrishna Prakash said. Prakash clerked for D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Laurence Silberman, who Barrett also clerked for.
Originalism became a flashpoint in the hearing, with Democrat senators making the case that the judicial philosophy held by late Justice Antonin Scalia -- as well as current Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch -- is a reason to keep Barrett off the bench.
"You asked a gay black woman if she's an originalist? No, ma'am, I'm not," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., quoted Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a lawyer herself, as saying. "That Constitution didn't consider me a person in any way, shape or form because I'm a woman, because I'm black and because I'm gay."
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., later called originalism a "smokescreen" for "activist" judges, specifically pointing to the dissent Barrett wrote in the case Kanter v. Barr arguing that governments should not be able to take away someone's Second Amendment rights just because they are convicted of a nonviolent felony.
But D.C. Circuit Court Judge Thomas Griffith, who supports Barrett, defended originalism, saying that the philosophy -- the interpretation of laws and the Constitution as they were publicly understood at the time they were written -- prevents judges from substituting their own views in rulings.
"The American people decide what is fair and just and equitable," through the laws their representatives pass, Griffith said. "I was not appointed to take my own views ... and use them to resolve the case... our job as a judge is to be a faithful agent to We the People as they express their will through law."
Griffith in his opening statement also addressed some of the hate that has been directed to Barrett largely from leftists outside of Congress over her religion and previous pro-life stances.
"While some of the discussion about Judge Barrett's faith has been tinged with bigotry, some of it comes from a sincere desire to know whether her faith will take your decisions as a justice," Griffith said. "As a person of faith who served on the D.C. Circuit, let me assure you it would not."
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"The oath that every federal judge must take is intended to transform the citizen into an impartial judge whose loyalty, while performing her judicial role, is to the Constitution and laws in the United States and not to any president, party or religion," Griffith continued. "In other words, her personal faith -- the judicial oath is a promise to the nation and God that she will not do the one thing her secular critics must fear: Reach for outcomes based on her religious worldview."
Laura Wolk, who was the first blind woman to serve as a clerk on the Supreme Court, recalled a time as a student of the then-Notre Dame Law School professor when Barrett helped her get the assistive technology she needed to do her classwork.
"Judge Barrett will serve this country with distinction not only because of her intellectual prowess but because of her ability to treat everyone as an equal deserving of complete respect," Wolk said.
Thursday will be the final day of the Barrett hearings before the Judiciary Committee votes on her nomination Oct. 22 and the full Senate likely the following week.