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  HOME | USA

Barrett Sidesteps Giving Senate Committee Her View on Presidential Powers

WASHINGTON – Ultraconservative federal Judge Amy Coney Barrett, nominated by President Donald Trump to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat, sidestepped on Wednesday in the third day of her Senate confirmation hearing, providing her views on presidential power, although she did say that “nobody is above the law.”

Barrett, a 48-year-old conservative Catholic, has been appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee each day since Monday where she has been questioned by lawmakers about her legal views on controversial issues such as the right to abortion and voting rights, as well as the future of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, the health care reform implemented by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.

In what was perhaps the most controversial moment of the day, Barrett said that nobody is above the law but she avoided clarifying her view regarding whether the president has the right to pardon himself, as Trump has claimed in the past.

It was Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont who asked Barrett about the powers of the president and whether she thought that any American was above the law.

Regarding pardons, she said, “That question has never been litigated,” adding that she could not answer the question “because it would be opining on an open question when I haven’t gone through the judicial process to decide it. It’s not one in which I can offer a view.”

In 2018, Trump said that he has the “absolute right” to pardon himself, but he added that he would not do so because he had done “nothing wrong,” regarding the federal investigation under way at the time into his 2016 presidential campaign’s links with Russia.

In another controversial exchange, Barrett also said that the Supreme Court has no way to guarantee that people abide by its decisions, not even the president.

The judge said that President Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) on one occasion disobeyed the order of a lower court during the US Civil War.

She said that the courts can do nothing to ensure that their rulings are followed once those rulings are issued, that power resting with other branches of government, which must react accordingly to situations of that kind.

Trump has suggested on several occasions that he would not accept the result of the Nov. 3 election – in which he is vying for re-election with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden – if he does not win and, for months, he has been fomenting the idea that the massive election fraud will occur because of mail-in voting, which will be a huge element in the balloting due to the coronavirus, and thus it cannot be ruled out that deciding on the election result will end up before the high court.

On the other hand, last week an appeals court ruled that the Southern District of New York could demand Trump’s tax returns, while the president’s attorney, Jay Sekulow, said that he would turn to the Supreme Court for a ruling on the matter in the hope that the president could avoid having to turn over those documents.

Leahy tried to put the judge on the spot with another question about the clause in the US Constitution regarding emoluments a president may receive, language that limits foreign influence on the commander-in-chief by prohibiting him or her from receiving gifts from abroad.

Along those lines, the senator, citing media reports, questioned Barrett about whether the money taken in by Trump’s real estate holdings, specifically his hotels and high-end country clubs, from foreign entities and individuals would come under that clause.

The judge once again was evasive, saying “As a matter that’s being litigated, it’s very clear that that would be one I can’t express an opinion on because it could come before me.”

Barrett also declined to overtly agree with Leahy’s framing of the emoluments clause as an “anti-corruption clause,” saying: “I don’t know if I would characterize it as an anti-corruption clause. … I think I would characterize it … (as) designed to prevent foreign countries from having influence.”

Apart from the matter of a president’s powers the Wednesday session before the Judiciary Committee unfolded with significant attempts by Democrats to discredit Barrett regarding her views on abortion and Obamacare, compared with Republican lawmakers’ attempts to protect and praise her.

The chairman of the committee, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, opened Wednesday’s session by proclaiming Barrett’s probable confirmation by the full Senate, where Republicans hold a 53-47 majority, as an “historic victory” for a woman who is openly against abortion.

Barrett, however, managed to dodge responding to constant questions by Democrats about what her view will be if she is confirmed to the high court and the nation’s top judicial body heard a case on abortion, although she made it clear that she opposes the right of a woman to choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy.

Republicans want to confirm Barrett in the full Senate on Oct. 22, and thus she could become a member of the high court before the Nov. 3 election.

 

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