Sen. Joni Ernst, in her first Judiciary Committee hearing with a Supreme Court nominee, used her opening statement to praise Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s faith, family and professional accomplishments as a lawyer and professor. But Ernst also falsely accused Senate Democrats of religious bigotry, despite them spending the entire confirmation hearing focused on health care and the future of the Affordable Care Act, not Barrett’s religious affiliations.
“This week will be an opportunity to dig into your background further and understand more about your judicial philosophy,” Ernst said. “But what your political opponents want to paint you as is a TV or a cartoon version of a religious radical. A so-called ‘handmaid’ that feeds into all of the ridiculous stereotypes they have set out to lambast people of faith in America. And that’s wrong.”
Despite Republicans’ best efforts to bait Democrats into questioning whether Judge Barrett’s Catholic faith will influence her work as a justice, the committee’s 10 Democrats were laser-focused on how a conservative majority on the Supreme Court threatens to upend health insurance for millions of Americans.
Several Democratic senators, including former presidential candidates Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar, displayed large pictures of constituents behind them to tell the stories of those who have benefited from provisions of the ACA, such as guaranteed protections for people with preexisting conditions.
Ernst, however, accused Democrats of “attacking” Barrett “as a mom and a woman of faith because they cannot attack your qualifications.”
“I’m struck by the irony of how demeaning to women their accusations really are,” Ernst said. “That you as a working mother of seven, with a strong record of professional and academic accomplishment, couldn’t possibly respect the goals and desires of today’s women. That you, as a practicing Catholic, with a detailed record of service, lack compassion. … The great freedom of being an American woman is that we can decide how to build our lives. Whom to marry, what kind of person we are, and where we want to go.
“I served in the Army,” Ernst continued, “something not exactly popular at various points in America’s history. We don’t have to fit the narrow definition of womanhood. We create our own path.”
Senate Democrats have made clear their opposition to Barrett is not based on her faith — Joe Biden is a practicing Catholic and five current justices are Catholic — but because her nomination came in the final weeks of a presidential election year, and the threat they believe she poses to the ACA, abortion access, marriage equality and other issues.
Kennan Crow, director of policy and advocacy for One Iowa Action, during a Facebook Live event ahead of today’s hearing, described Barrett as “a nominee who is either indifferent or actively hostile to marginalized communities.”
“Confirming Judge Barrett will jeopardize health care, voting rights, reproductive rights, anti-discrimination protection, racial justice and true religious freedom,” Crow said Monday morning.
Republicans’ strategy of demonizing Democrats during this week’s hearings was evident in Ernst’s remarks as she accused her Democratic colleagues of “attacking [Barrett’s] faith and your precious family.”
“Instead of entering into this nomination process with an open mind and a desire to understand this woman who has been nominated for the highest court in the land, the focus is on a plan or a strategy, a series of tactics to undermine, coerce and confuse the American people,” Ernst said. “A plan, Judge Barrett, to undermine you as a person, undermine your family, and undermine what you hold dear.”
Questioning of Barrett, which is scheduled to last two days, begins tomorrow morning.
By Elizabeth Meyer
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