Sen. Tillis returns to U.S. Capitol for Barrett confirmation hearing, doctor’s note in hand

Senator Thom Tillis, R-NC, a member of the U.S. Committee on the Judiciary. Credit: Committee website.

WASHINGTON—Wielding a doctor’s note clearing him to return to work, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis rejoined Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination hearing in person on Tuesday.

Tillis had announced on Oct. 2 that he had tested positive for COVID-19, and the North Carolina Republican participated virtually in the opening day of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings.

Tillis wore a face mask when he entered the hearing room Tuesday morning, according to pool reports from journalists in the room. When his turn came in his initial round of questions to Barrett, Tillis — like other senators — spoke without the face covering.

Tillis used 10 minutes of the 30 he was allotted, first defending Barrett against critiques from Democrats over a newspaper ad she signed in 2006 organized by a group opposing abortion rights. Tillis later criticized both the Affordable Care Act and how Democrats have emphasized it throughout the hearings.

“They’re asking you to basically legislate. I don’t want you to do that,” Tillis said, adding that it’s up to the Senate, not the court, to ensure health care laws work.

Democratic senators have focused their opposition around whether Barrett’s elevation to the Supreme Court could mean the end of the health care law, which is being challenged again in a case before the court next month. They questioned Barrett about her critique of an earlier case upholding part of the ACA.

Barrett said that she has not been asked to rule in a particular way on that case, and that she is “not hostile to the ACA.”

Tillis asked Barrett only a few direct questions. He asked about her experience working as a clerk for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, and the discussions in Scalia’s chambers between him and his law clerks, in which the conservative jurist would be presented with a range of viewpoints on each case.

Tillis’ turn questioning the Supreme Court nominee came late in the afternoon, hours into the second in what’s expected to be a four-day process in the Judiciary panel.

Tillis, who is in a tough re-election race this fall, was a swift supporter of Barrett, and vowed even before her nomination that he would vote for whomever Trump tapped for the court.

Barrett, 48, a judge on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, was tapped by Trump to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Sept. 18. Barrett graduated from Notre Dame’s law school and has served on the faculty there.

During his opening remarks, Tillis praised Barrett’s legal credentials and described her as an inspiration to young lawyers.

“I have complete confidence in your integrity, ” Tillis said, adding that he thinks she would be “a great justice.”

The question-and-answer portion of Barrett’s hearing is expected to continue through Wednesday, with each senator getting additional opportunities to ask questions.

Laura Olson
Laura covers the nation's capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom, a network of nonprofit outlets that includes Florida Phoenix. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections, and campaign finance.