A central question surrounding Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination has been whether she would be independent from President Trump if she is confirmed as a justice. It’s a pertinent one given Trump’s repeated prediction that the presidential election “will end up in the Supreme Court,” where Barrett could practically decide if he gets another term. During three days of questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee that ended on Wednesday, Barrett said she would be nobody’s “pawn” but said nothing else to suggest that she would rule other than in Trump’s favor.
A judge on the D.C. appeals court, Barrett was noncommittal when asked if she would weigh in on possible election disputes. “I can’t offer an opinion on recusal without short-circuiting that entire process,” she told Senator Patrick Leahy. While Supreme Court nominees have historically given vague responses to hypothetical questions or ones about potential cases, Barrett’s dodges are particularly concerning because Trump has made it clear that his rush to confirm her has everything to do with the election he plans to contest.
Senators asked Barrett several questions about Trump beyond the election. At least twice she declined to say whether the president can pardon himself, either because “that question has not been litigated or arisen,” she said, or because she could be asked to rule on the matter if she is confirmed. “That would be a legal question. That would be a constitutional question. And so, in keeping with my obligation not to give hints, previews, or forecasts of how I would resolve a case, that’s not one that I can answer,” she told Senator Cory Booker, who agreed that what has “never been an issue before” could very well be one soon — Trump has said he has the “absolute” power to pardon himself.
The judge was similarly evasive on the topic of voting by mail, a method that Trump has repeatedly undermined by claiming without evidence that it is linked to widespread fraud. “Are absentee ballots, or better known as mail-in ballots, an essential way to vote for millions of Americans right now?” Senator Amy Klobuchar asked, to which Barrett replied, “That’s a matter of policy on which I can’t express a view.” Nor would Barrett clearly say whether the president can delay an election, despite the Constitution seeming to plainly state that he cannot. “I’d need to hear arguments from the litigants and read briefs and consult with my law clerks and talk to my colleagues and go through the opinion-writing process,” Barrett told Senator Dianne Feinstein about the president’s ability to postpone or delay an election, adding, “I think we want judges to approach cases thoughtfully and with an open mind.”