Confirmation hearing civics lesson

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, October 20th. This is WORLD Radio. We thank you for listening today! 

Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham.

Last week, Judge Amy Coney Barrett spent four days before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill. There were lots of memorable moments, but one in particular caught the attention of many on social media. This exchange with Senator John Cornyn:

CORNYN: Most of us have multiple notebooks, notes, and books, and things like that in front of us. Can you hold up what you’ve been referring to when answering our questions?

Amy Coney Barrett holds up a blank notepad.

CORNYN: Is there anything on it?

BARRETT: The letterhead that says “United States Senate.”

CORNYN: That’s impressive.

Meme creators across the political spectrum took a freeze frame of that footage and superimposed their own messages on the blank pad. Most were humorous, but some were quite poignant—illustrating the implications of her confirmation one way or another.

REICHARD: When the hearings began last Monday, committee members each had 10-minutes for opening statements. Many used that time for political posturing and virtue signaling. But a few took the opportunity to provide an important civics lesson on the Constitution, the confirmation process, and the courts.

WORLD’s Paul Butler culled through those comments and brings us a few excerpts. They have been edited for time and flow.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: Day one of Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee didn’t include any official questioning. Chairman Lindsey Graham opened the hearing with the following ground rules:

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: The first day has traditionally been opening statements by my colleagues. Everybody will have 10 minutes to talk about their views of the hearing and what this is all about. 

All 22-members of the committee spoke. Most attended in person, but a few joined remotely—like Texas Senator Ted Cruz. 

CRUZ: Good morning. Good morning to judge Barrett… 

After a historical overview of the confirmation process over the years, and demonstrating how this one isn’t that unique. Senator Cruz suggested there are two fundamentally different views of the Supreme Court at play. Some wish it to become a de facto policy making body. While others—like himself—take a different view:

TED CRUZ: The court’s job is to decide cases according to the law and to leave policy making to the elected legislators. Now, look, that doesn’t mean policymaking is unimportant. In fact, it means to the contrary, policymaking is very important and the people need to have a direct check on policy making. You know what, if a rogue court implements policies you don’t like, you, the American people, have very limited ability to check them. If a rogue Congress implements policies you don’t like, you have a direct ability to check us by throwing the bums out and voting them out and voting in new representatives.

About 20 minutes later Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska decided to offer a civics lesson. He began by speaking of hypothetical 8th graders watching the hearings as part of their government classes. 

BEN SASSE: The Chairman said at the beginning of this hearing, there was a time when people that would be as different as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia could both go through the Senate and get confirmation votes of 95 or 98 votes. And the Chairman said at the beginning of the hearing he doesn’t know what happened between then and now. I think some of what happened between that and now is we decided to forget what civics are and allow politics to swallow everything. 

Senator Sasse identified civics as the “stuff we’re all supposed to agree on regardless of policy view differences.” And whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, Green Party member, or Libertarian, these things don’t change. Like how the legislative branch passes laws, the executive branch enforces laws, and the courts apply laws. Or like the principle of religious liberty.

SASSE: You don’t need the government’s permission to have religious liberty. Religious liberty is the default assumption of our entire system. And because religious liberty is the fundamental 101 rule in American life, we don’t have religious tests. This committee isn’t in the business of deciding whether the dogma lives too loudly within someone. 

Not much later, it was Josh Hawley’s turn. The Senator from Missouri built further on Sasse’s comments. Hawley warned of the apparent “religious test” present in many of the comments against the nominee. He offered this historical lesson:

JOSH HAWLEY: Article 6 of the Constitution of the United States, before we even get to the Bill of Rights, Article 6 of the Constitution of the United States says clearly, and I quote, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” 

Now that was big news in 1787, when it was written, and it’s worth remembering why. It’s because no country, no Republic in the history of the world had ever guaranteed to its citizens the right to freedom of conscience, and religious liberty. Every other country that had ever existed tied together the religious beliefs that would be approved by the powerful, and the right to serve in office, or to vote or just to be a citizen.

In every other country across history, you had to agree with what those in power agreed with in order to hold office or be a citizen in good standing.

So when our founders put Article 6 into the Constitution in the United States, they were making a very deliberate choice. They were breaking with all of that past history and they were saying in America, it would be different. In the United States of America, we would not allow the ruling class to have veto power over your faith, over what Americans believed, over who we gathered with to worship, and why, and where, and how. No, in this country, the people of the United States would be free to follow their own religious convictions, free to worship, free to exercise their religion, and people of faith would be welcome in the public sphere.

65 million Americans are Catholics and many, many millions more are Christians of other persuasions. Are they to be told that they cannot serve in public office? That they are not welcome in the public sphere unless the members of this committee sign off on their religious beliefs? I, for one, do not want to live in such an America. And the Constitution of the United States flatly prohibits it.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on Barrett’s nomination later this week. She is expected to make it out of committee by a vote of 12 to 10. The entire Senate will more than likely call for a confirmation vote sometime next week, or at least before the November 3rd election.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Paul Butler.

(Hilary Swift/The New York Times via AP, Pool, File) In this Oct. 14, 2020 file photo, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., speaks during the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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