Health Care vs. Religious Freedom: The Dueling Strategies for Amy Coney Barrett's Confirmation

The confirmation process of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett kicked off on Monday, solidifying the two political parties' contrasting strategies: health care for tens of millions of Americans vs. the country's religious rights.

With just 22 days until the Nov. 3 contest, the tactics were a representation of the parties' platforms and how they view their winning election strategies. Barrett is expected to be confirmed before Election Day, as Democrats lack the votes to prevent it and don't possess the power to delay it.

Democrats doubled down on their rhetoric during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that confirming the conservative judge will spell certain doom for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Obama-era health law that guarantees insurance protection to some 130 million Americans with pre-existing conditions, amid a raging global pandemic.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for a case involving the ACA, which features a lawsuit brought by Republican state attorneys general and is backed by the Trump administration to completely strike down the measure, one week after voters cast their ballots.

"Judge Barret, your nomination for a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land comes before us under a cloud," Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said. "You have been nominated by a president who shows contempt for the constitution but does not hesitate to tell his loyal followers that you are being sent to the bench to do his political chores."

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) labeled the confirmation, which Democrats have said is hypocritical for Republicans to move forward with just weeks before an election, a "charade."

"Big donors may love it, but Americans see what's going on," Whitehouse said. "They see this ugly, hasty, hypocritical power grab, and they know what it means for their health care in the midst of a pandemic. For Republicans, there is no washing your hands of responsibility for the results that your president has told us will ensue."

Republicans spent much of their time speaking to Barrett's qualifications and her Catholic faith. The language was reminiscent of the Republican Party platform that Americans' religious freedom is under attack and at risk.

Amy Coney Barrett
Judge Amy Coney Barrett exits after she appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee during her confirmation hearings to become an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, October 12. Photo by KEVIN DIETSCH/POOL/AFP

"When you tell somebody they're too Catholic to be on the bench, when you tell them they'll be a Catholic judge, not an American judge, that's bigotry," Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said. "The pattern and practice of bigotry from members of this committee must stop."

Republicans referenced some past remarks from Democrats about Barrett's faith. Among those was the time in 2017 during Barrett's appeals court confirmation when ranking Judiciary Committee member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said "the dogma lives loudly within you."

"It's really quite simple what your opponents are doing," Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said. "They are attacking you—as a mom and a woman of faith—because they cannot attack your qualifications."

But despite Republicans' suggestions, Democrats did not mention Barrett's religious beliefs. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said the "Catholic church won out" because there "wasn't any badmouthing of Catholics."

"Did you hear one of us raise that issue?!" Durbin said to reporters. "We have taken an oath to a constitution that says no religious test. Enough said."

The constitution prohibits religious tests for any office. Rather, Democrats remained unified in their messaging about the threat to health care.

"It unites us, and it unites the American people," Durbin continued. "Republicans on that committee and beyond are tone deaf, in the middle of a pandemic, to be pushing a lawsuit to eliminate health care protection."

Trump vowed to one day implement a more affordable health care law. However, despite years of similar claims, Trump and Republicans still do not have a comprehensive alternative, should the ACA be struck down by the nation's highest court.

"We will have Healthcare which is FAR BETTER than ObamaCare, at a FAR LOWER COST," Trump wrote in a morning tweet. "BIG PREMIUM REDUCTION. PEOPLE WITH PRE EXISTING CONDITIONS WILL BE PROTECTED AT AN EVEN HIGHER LEVEL THAN NOW. HIGHLY UNPOPULAR AND UNFAIR INDIVIDUAL MANDATE ALREADY TERMINATED. YOU'RE WELCOME!"

Barrett offered a glimpse into how she will likely respond in the coming days to questions about how she would handle cases involving the ACA. Though she has not—and likely will not—explicitly say how she would rule, past comments about the ACA have led Democrats to believe Barrett is almost certain to vote against the health care law.

In her opening statement, Barrett vowed to follow in the foot steps of former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in his legal theory and keep politics separate from the rule of law.

"Courts are not designed to solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life. The policy decisions and value judgments of government must be made by the political branches elected by and accountable to the people," Barrett stated. "The public should not expect courts to do so, and courts should not try."

She made her commitment to a strict constructionist interpretation of the Constitution crystal clear.

"A judge must apply the law as written," Barrett said, "not as she wishes it were."