Ernst highlights Supreme Court nominee Barrett’s decision upholding abortion clinic buffer zones

By: - October 13, 2020 7:26 pm

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks Oct. 13, 2020, during the confirmation hearing for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. (Screen shot from livestream)

After Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett fielded repeated questions throughout Tuesday’s confirmation hearing about her personal views on abortion, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst asked Barrett to once more explain how she would approach the issue as a judge.

Barrett, a devout Catholic conservative, told Ernst — an Iowa Republican who described herself as “pro-life” in her question — that she doesn’t detail her own opinions about abortion due to her role as a judge on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“My policy views, my moral convictions, my religious beliefs do not bear on how I decide cases, nor should they,” Barrett said in the hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, adding that it would be in conflict with her judicial oath.

Ernst then read from a letter she received from Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group, lauding Barrett as a jurist who handles matters impartially. The letter cited as evidence a case in which she joined a majority opinion upholding buffer zones barring protesters within a certain distance of Chicago clinics that provide abortions.

Asked by Ernst to explain that case, Barrett responded that the city ordinance challenged in Price v. City of Chicago was very similar to one in a prior Supreme Court case, which found the buffer zone, intended to prevent protesters from harassing patients entering a clinic, was constitutional.

“That was a case involving abortion, but my duty as a judge was to follow the governing law,” Barrett said, referencing the prior case.

“I think it was important to point that out, because in that case, using precedent, it did favor that abortion clinic, is that correct?” Ernst asked.

“That is correct,” Barrett replied.

The exchange was one of several between Barrett and senators from both parties on Tuesday regarding abortion.

She declined repeatedly to shed light on her personal positions, though at one point she appeared to align with legal scholars who don’t regard the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade as a “super-precedent,” or one that cannot be overturned.

Barrett, 48, was tapped by Trump to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Sept. 18. Barrett graduated from Notre Dame’s law school and has served on the faculty there.

Ernst is one of two female GOP members on the committee. She and Sen. Marsha Blackburn, of Tennessee, were added following Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s hearings in 2018. There were no Republican women on the panel as it investigated sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh, and there never had been.

Like most senators, Ernst was in the hearing room Monday and Tuesday. Senators were given the option to participate in person or remotely, after two members of the panel, GOP Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month after attending Barrett’s announcement ceremony at the White House.

Iowa’s senior senator, Chuck Grassley, is also on the committee. He engaged Barrett earlier Tuesday in discussion about health care and criminal justice reform, among other topics.

Ernst, Iowa’s first female U.S. senator, was elected in 2014 and is seeking a second term. Theresa Greenfield, a real estate director, is the Democratic challenger seeking to unseat her in a race viewed as one of the most competitive in the country.

The senator also used her time to give Barrett a chance to go back to any other topics that Barrett wanted to address again.

The nominee used that chance to apologize after Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, criticized her for using the term “sexual preference,” instead of “sexual orientation,” when talking about the 2015 decision granting marriage rights to same-sex couples.

“I certainly didn’t mean, and would never mean, to use a term that would cause any offense in the LGBTQ community,” Barrett said. “So, if I did, I greatly apologize for that.”

The question-and-answer portion of Barrett’s hearing is expected to continue through Wednesday, with each senator getting additional opportunities to ask questions.

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Laura Olson
Laura Olson

Laura covers the nation's capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom, a network of nonprofit outlets that includes Iowa Capital Dispatch. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections, and campaign finance.