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Wed Oct 14, 2020, 07:44 PM

These confirmation hearings are not really about Amy Coney Barrett

Opinion by Editorial Board

JUDGE AMY CONEY BARRETT has attracted outrage for some of her answers — or non-answers — in her Senate confirmation questioning, which wrapped up Wednesday. Asked whether President Trump could unilaterally move the election, she said she would “need to hear arguments from the litigants and read briefs and consult with my law clerks and talk to my colleagues.” Asked about whether voter intimidation is illegal, Judge Barrett replied, “I can’t apply the law to a hypothetical set of facts.”

Of course the president cannot unilaterally move the election, and voter intimidation is illegal. But Judge Barrett’s demurrals say less about her than about the outrageous, politicized process by which Republicans seek to jam her onto the Supreme Court.

Judge Barrett is hardly the first would-be justice to decline to answer obvious questions. After the Senate rejected the loquacious Robert H. Bork in 1987, Supreme Court nominees have found ways to say less and less, particularly on hot-button issues, under the argument that they must preserve some semblance of neutrality.

Still, this week’s hearings have arguably shed even less light than usual. By pushing through Judge Barrett in the middle of a red-hot presidential race, Republicans have made it more fraught for her to answer simple election-law-related questions, which would be easier to discuss at practically any other time. This is among the ways the Republicans’ rushed, pre-cooked, rankly hypocritical approach fails to do justice either to the court or to the nominee herself.

Just as Judge Barrett cannot ignore the political context in which she has been nominated while she seeks confirmation, she must also keep it front of mind if she joins the high court. President Trump has repeatedly stated that he is counting on the court, with Judge Barrett on it, to deliver him favorable rulings related to the coming presidential election. For the good of the court — and for her own sake — she cannot make it look as though she is the last piece of his plan to undermine the vote. The right choice is recusal on any matter relating to the 2020 race.


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