Senate Democrats have decided to make the ongoing court battle over the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act the centerpiece of their argument against the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
In her opening statement, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, pointed to repeated statements by President Trump promising to nominate judges who would overturn the law, popularly called Obamacare, during Senate confirmation hearings Monday morning.
“Health-care coverage for millions of Americans is at stake with this nomination,” Feinstein said, noting that on Nov. 10 the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case California v. Texas, wherein 20 Republican-led states have sued to have the law struck down. The Trump administration has declined to defend the law in court.
“The president has promised any judge he nominates will overturn the ACA,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, in his opening remarks. “Judge Barrett has already made it clear she considers the act unconstitutional,” he added, referring to 2017 article she wrote that argued that Chief Justice Roberts 2013 decision to uphold the law “pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute.”
Obamacare extended health care to millions of Americans through an expansion of Medicaid and provisions that denied insurers the right to deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions and mandated that young adults age 26 or below could remain on their parents’ insurance plans.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, argued that it is impossible to know how Barrett would vote on California v. Texas. “The left is suggesting that Judge Barrett’s confirmation would be the demise of the Affordable Care Act and the protection for preexisting conditions. That’s outrageous,” he said. “As a mother of seven Judge Barrett clearly understands the importance of health care.”
He also noted that several judges appointed by Republican presidents have ended up siding with progressives on many issues, including Justices John Paul Stevens, Anthony Kennedy and David Souter. “Democrats and their allies shouldn’t claim to know how any judge would rule in any particular case,” he said.
Democrats were also keen to make the threat of an overturned Affordable Care Act personal, with senators highlighting individual constituents’ stories and how their lives have been made better by the law.
Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, shared the story of 7-year-old Kenny Murray from Tinley Park, Ill., who was diagnosed, in utero, with multiple congenital heart defects, which required him to undergo three open-heart surgeries in the first 14 months of his life, costing more than $1 million.
Durbin noted that Kenny’s father’s health insurance, through his employer, had a million-dollar lifetime cap, before an Obamacare provision banning lifetime caps on coverage went into effect in 2014.
Without that provision, “Kenny’s family would have gone bankrupt,” Durbin said. “Kenny is a real person whose life depends on the Affordable Care Act.”
Despite his administration’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act, which prevents insurers from discriminating against preexisting conditions, President Trump urged Republicans to argue that they would institute as-yet unproposed laws that would keep the ban in place.
Other Republican figures, like Doug Andres, press secretary for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Texas, criticized Democrats unrelenting focus on the Affordable Care Act.
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, attempted to make the hearings a referendum on Judge Barrett’s Catholic faith, referring frequently to Sen. Feinstein’s remarks to Barrett in a 2017 Court of Appeals nomination that “the dogma lives loudly within you,” in reference to fears that Barrett’s faith would impact her rulings on issues like abortion.
While Democrats steered clear of statements referencing Barrett’s religion during Monday’s hearing, Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, said Feinstein’s comments three years ago were “picking up on the very terminology of anti-Catholic bigotry current in this country a century ago.”
He argued that any attempt to question how a potential judge’s religious beliefs might impact their rulings is expressly forbidden by the Constitution’s prohibition on their being religious tests for public-office holders and an attack on religious liberty more broadly.
“That is attempt to bring back the veto power of the powerful over the religious beliefs and sincerely held convictions of the American people,” he said. “That is what is at stake in this confirmation hearing.”