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Amy Coney Barrett Faces More Questions From The Senate Judiciary Committee

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Well, joining us now for more on all of this is NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

Hey, Nina.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Hi there, Ailsa.

CHANG: So we heard more than 10 hours of testimony from Judge Barrett yesterday. What struck you as different today?

TOTENBERG: You know, I was struck by the way the chairman of the committee, Lindsey Graham, opened the hearing today, essentially crowing over the fact that what he called a pro-life justice would now be on the court, even though Judge Barrett has insisted that her legal opinions would not be affected by her personal anti-abortion views. And here's what Graham said.

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LINDSEY GRAHAM: And this is history being made, folks. This is the first time in American history that we've nominated a woman who's unashamedly pro-life and embraces her faith without apology. And she's going to the court. A seat at the table is waiting on you. And it will be a great signal to all young women who want to - who share your view of the world that there's a seat at the table for them.

CHANG: Well, Democrats had some pretty tense exchanges with Barrett today. Tell us about that.

TOTENBERG: In an exchange, for example, with Amy Klobuchar, the senator from Minnesota, Barrett bristled at the idea that some of her academic writings were essentially an audition for President Trump and that she absolutely knew how passionately opposed to Obamacare he was and is. Here's Klobuchar.

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AMY KLOBUCHAR: My question is simply, were you aware of President Trump's opposition to the Affordable Care Act during that time?

AMY CONEY BARRETT: Sem. Klobuchar, I have no idea. And again, I want to stress, I have no animus to or agenda for the Affordable Care Act. So to the extent you're suggesting this was, like, an open letter to President Trump, it was not.

CHANG: Well, what about contraception? I know that came up today, you know, the right to buy it, to use it, as a matter of privacy under the Constitution. Did Barrett ever say what her position was on that?

TOTENBERG: No, and she didn't say what her position is on a right to privacy. And that's in marked contrast to the testimony of other Supreme Court nominees, Republicans Supreme Court nominees. Sen. Richard Blumenthal quoted from Chief Justice Roberts' confirmation testimony, from Justice Kennedy's confirmation testimony, even from Justice Thomas' testimony about the Griswold case. And that case established the right to privacy in the Constitution in particular. And remember; this was 1965. The court ruled that married couples have a right to have and to use contraceptives in the privacy of their homes. And Barrett said that she couldn't imagine such a case coming to the Supreme Court today. But she refused to say, as the other Republican nominees have before her, that there is an inherent right to privacy in the Constitution.

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CONEY BARRETT: The position that I've taken is, whether a question is easy or hard, that I can't offer an answer to it. And I would be surprised if people were afraid that birth control is about to be criminalized.

TOTENBERG: And, you know, yet, I have to point out that some of the very groups that oppose abortion also oppose birth control.

CHANG: Now, there has been a lot of discussion in these hearings about Barrett's various statements aligning her judicial philosophy with that of the justice she clerked for two decades ago, Justice Scalia. Did we hear more of that today?

TOTENBERG: We saw a lot of Democrats trying to press her on her saying that her judicial philosophy was Scalia's judicial philosophy. And Sen. Chris Coons pressed her not just on the right to privacy, which Scalia did not believe was guaranteed in the Constitution, but also about Scalia's opinion, for instance, his decision - his dissenting opinion in the Virginia Military Institute decision, which was written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And Ginsburg's opinion struck down the all-male policy of the Virginia Military Institute. And Coons said, would you agree with Justice Scalia that Justice Ginsburg's decision in the VMI case was wrong? And she said in response to that, I share his philosophy - meaning Justice Scalia's philosophy - but I have never said that I would always reach the same outcome as he did. I have a mind of my own, she said.

CHANG: That is NPR's Nina Totenberg.

Thank you, Nina.

TOTENBERG: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.