Two women were auditioning for historically important roles during Monday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
Both used remarks that were prepared in advance.
Both paid heartfelt tribute to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
But that is where the similarities stopped short between the Democrat vice-presidential nominee and President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee as each races toward her final verdict by juries comprising either the U.S. Senate or the American electorate.
Harris, who was “zooming” in to the hearing from what appeared to be her home state of California, likely felt the burden to come across as kinder and gentler than she did during the disruptive and disrespectful 2018 committee hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Through that and other prosecutorial grillings on the committee, Harris built her brand in the Senate as a no-nonsense vanguard for the extreme Left—a hard-nosed foil to Trumpism who might, at the very least, inflict some measure of pain and suffering upon the ruling majority party.
But she struggled with reinventing her persona during her own presidential campaign and now as part of the ticket with presidential hopeful Joe Biden.
Harris’s opening statement for the hearing bore similarities to other recent public forums, including last week’s vice-presidential debate against Republican incumbent Mike Pence.
In both cases, her remarks had a staged and scripted feel—and although there were moments written in for her to exhibit her personal warmth and charisma, Harris largely fell back on a more toothless variation of the familiar attack-dog role she has played in the past.
More than seven minutes of her 10-minute speech was a carbon-copy of the talking points deployed by Democrats throughout the day.
Harris and others sought to link Barrett’s confirmation with a case scheduled to be heard on Nov. 10 that threatens to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
“Republicans finally realize that the ACA is too popular to repeal in Congress,” Harris claimed. “So now, they are trying to bypass the will of the voters… that’s a big reason why Senate Republicans are rushing this process.”
There is no evidence suggesting that Barrett’s confirmation has anything to do with the upcoming Texas v. California case, in which the court will rule on whether the ACA’s now-defunct individual mandate is severable from the other aspects of the massive 2010 healthcare bill.
However, Barrett had previously criticized the reasoning of Chief Justice John Roberts for allowing the law to stand, despite what some maintain was an unconstitutional rationale in declaring the insurance penalty to be a “tax.”
Harris’s politically motivated allegation seemed more designed to drive voters to the polls on Nov. 3 than to raise any red flags about Barrett’s judicial fitness. But her hyperbolic attack didn’t end there.
Harris went on to imply that Barrett would roll back the protections afforded by other landmark court cases—some dating back more than six decades—including the court’s rulings on school integration and interracial marriage.
“The United States Supreme Court is often the last refuge for equal justice when our constitutional rights are being violated,” Harris said.
However, by nominating Barrett to fill the seat, “President Trump is attempting to roll back Americans’ rights for decades to come,” she claimed.
Barrett, meanwhile, sat in the committee hearing room with her husband and six of her seven children—including two adoptive Haitian children. Her youngest child, who has Down syndrome, remained at home with friends, she said.
Like Harris, Barrett spoke from a script, with her prepared remarks having been made available in advance of the hearing.
The New Orleans native offered praise to her lifetime of professional mentors, including the late Justice Antonin Scalia, whose constructionist judicial philosophy was the model for her own outlook.
“I felt like I knew the justice before I ever met him because I had read so many of his colorful, accessible opinions,” she said.
“More than the style of his writing, though, it was the content of Justice Scalia’s reasoning that shaped me,” she continued. “His judicial philosophy was straightforward: A judge must apply the law as written, not as the judge wishes it were.”
Barrett said that when issuing a ruling, she tried to imagine how she would feel if her own children were the losing party.
Barrett’s heartland charm seemed more likely to resonate with the average American than Harris’s lofty and aloof persona.
If approved, she seemed poised to sway the entire Supreme Court in a vastly different direction—and not simply by solidifying its conservative majority for the time being.
As she pointed out, she would be the only justice without an Ivy League diploma—although “I am confident that Notre Dame will hold its own, and maybe I could even teach them a thing or two about football,” she said.
Barrett also would be “the first mother of school-age children to serve on the Court” and the first justice in nearly half a century to hail from the 7th circuit, which maintains jurisdiction over Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.
As if her relatability weren’t enough to sell her, Barrett also exhibited a particular grace in honoring her would-be predecessor, the liberal icon Ginsburg.
“I have been nominated to fill Justice Ginsburg’s seat, but no one will ever take her place,” Barrett said. “I will be forever grateful for the path she marked and the life she led.”