American Bar Association calls Barrett “well-qualified” but witness testimonies highlight what’s at stake

Randall Noel, Chair of American Bar Association's Standing Committee, rates Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett as "well qualified."

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is “well-qualified” to serve as justice in the highest court in the land, according to members of the American Bar Association — but witnesses at her hearing weren’t always convinced.

After three days of often grueling testimony by senators on the U.S. Committee on the Judiciary, Thursday’s confirmation hearing took a different turn, providing information from witnesses who are not members of Congress.

Randall Noel, chair of the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee, which evaluates Supreme Court nominees, announced that Barrett received a rating of “well-qualified.”

“For 67 years, the Standing Committee has conducted thorough, non-partisan, non-ideological, impartial peer reviews of all nominees to the Supreme Court,” Noel said.

According to Noel, the Standing Committee assesses a nominee’s “integrity, their professional competence, and their judicial temperament” through a confidential peer review that reaches out to lawyers, judges, and others familiar with Barrett’s professional endeavors.

Despite their evaluation, other witnesses spoke against Barrett’s confirmation, presenting their fears of what a Barrett nomination might entail.

Part of Barrett’s controversial nomination is her “originalist” practice of interpreting law, saying Tuesday that she interprets the Constitution as a law and understands it to “have the meaning that it had at the time people ratified it.”

Some worry that her confirmation will risk aspects of life not decided by the original intent of the Constitution — such as LGBTQ rights, access to abortion, and the Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare.

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, who spoke at the Thursday hearing, said she worries that Barrett’s dedication to an “originalist” interpretation of the law may pose risk to Black Americans and other people of color.

“I am gravely concerned that a Justice Barrett would be more inclined to chip away at constitutional rights of those who are accused of crimes,” Clarke said at the hearing, “and we know that our criminal justice system is disproportionately composed of Black people and people of color.”

Another testimony came from Crystal Good, a mother of two sons and a daughter who is transgender. Good shared a story from when she was sixteen and needed access to an abortion.

“Later, at 16, while in a relationship that brought me joy and made me feel safe, I had an unintended pregnancy, just like 2.7 million Americans every year” said Clarke. “Immediately, I knew that I wanted an abortion. A very safe medical procedure that 1 in 4 U.S. women will have in their lifetime.”

Barrett’s religious leanings and originalist philosophy lead some to fear that the landmark Roe v. Wade case for abortion rights is at risk if Barrett is confirmed.

Clarke said later: “President Trump has been clear that he would only appoint justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade. Unfortunately, through learning about Judge Barrett’s record, I understand why the President believes she passes that test.”

Concern over the Affordable Care Act came to light when Stacy Staggs, a mother to two children with significant health needs, shared her experience of having a difficult pregnancy for her twin daughters and needing an emergency C-section at 28 weeks pregnant.

“I am here today because Judge Barrett has repeatedly made statements that are hostile to the Affordable Care Act,” Staggs said. “A vote for Judge Barrett is a vote to take away health care. And a vote for Judge Barrett is a vote to strike down the law that saved the lives of my daughters.”

“My family is a real-life example of the ACA’s success,” Staggs said.

Dr. Farhan Bhatti, of Lansing, Michigan, is a doctor and a member of the Committee to Protect Medicare. He also spoke on the risks of losing the ACA and how it might affect his patients.

“I can’t talk with expertise about concepts like originalism or textualism,” Bhatti said. “As a doctor, however, I can talk about the real-world harm of ending the ACA.”

Ending the ACA is a goal of the Trump administration and the GOP, and some believe Trump nominated her because he thinks she will help strike down Obamacare.

During her hearing, Barrett repeatedly avoided questions on these topics, consistently saying it would be “inappropriate” to give an indication on how she might rule on such cases.

Other witness testimonies appreciated Barrett’s dedication to originalism and spoke on the merits of her character.

Saikrishna Prakash is a conservative law professor at the University of Virginia School of Law who appreciates Barrett’s approach.

“I think she’s an institutionalist and I think that’s reflected in her writing. She cares deeply about America. She does not want to burn the whole thing down,” Prakash said.

He also spoke on why her originalist interpretation would be a benefit for lawmakers.

“What (lawmakers) don’t want is some judge or some executive later on, twisting that statute, twisting that enactment to suit some other purposes,” he said.

Amanda Rauh-Bieri, an associate at Miller Canfield, used to clerk for Barrett when the nominee first joined the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. She spoke highly of working under Barrett as a clerk.

“I wasn’t certain I had what it took to succeed,” she said. “Judge Barrett changed that for me. Her example and mentorship inspired in me confidence I didn’t know I had.

Rauh-Bieri praised Barrett’s work ethic, and her respect for differing opinions.

The Republican-led Judiciary Committee is set to vote on the nomination at 1 p.m. on Oct. 22.

States Newsroom Washington D.C. reporters Ariana Figueroa and Laura Olson contributed to this report.