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ABA testifies at Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination hearing

October 19, 2020

The Senate Judiciary Committee wrapped up its confirmation hearing for nominee Amy Coney Barrett with American Bar Associations representatives testifying on the fourth and final day on Oct. 15. Randall D. Noel of Tennessee, the chairman of the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, and Pamela J. Roberts of South Carolina, the lead evaluator on the Standing Committee’s investigation of Judge Barrett, both testified.

Randall D. Noel, chairman of the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, and Pamela J. Roberts, a lead evaluator on the committee.

Randall D. Noel, chairman of the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, and Pamela J. Roberts, a lead evaluator on the committee.

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Barrett merited the Standing Committee’s highest rating — “Well Qualified.” Noel spoke about the ABA’s role in the process, saying that the Standing Committee “all worked diligently to do what we always aspire to do – conduct a fair, thorough, and independent evaluation of the nominee and submit a rating within the time frame established by the Senate Judiciary Committee.” The evaluation took thousands of hours to complete.

During the four days of hearings, Democrats on the Senate committee argued against the speed at which the nomination process was being conducted and said it was hypocritical to seat a Supreme Court justice this close to a presidential election after Merrick Garland was denied a hearing in 2016. They also argued that Barrett’s confirmation would result in the end of the Affordable Care Act and the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Republicans claimed that the process was constitutional and proper and touted Barrett’s stellar qualifications and character.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) scheduled a committee vote on Barrett for Oct. 22. If she is advanced as expected, a full Senate vote would occur in the end of October.

The Standing Committee’s sole function is to evaluate a nominee’s integrity, professional competence, and judicial temperament. In so doing, the Standing Committee relies heavily on the confidential, candid, and considered assessments of federal and state judges, lawyers in private practice and government service, law school professors and deans, legal services and public interest lawyers, community leaders, and others who have knowledge of and are willing to share relevant information about the nominee’s professional qualifications.

Three Reading Groups of scholars and practitioners were commissioned by the Standing Committee to review Barrett’s legal writings and supplement the committee’s own review of the nominee’s writings. A total of 21 professors who are recognized experts in their fields of law participated in these reading groups.

The Standing Committee did not base its rating on, or seek to express any view regarding, Barrett’s philosophy, political affiliation, or ideology. It also did not solicit information as to how Barrett might vote on specific issues or cases that might come before the Supreme Court.

In evaluating Barrett’s integrity, the Standing Committee found no record of any ethical violations and that she has an excellent reputation for integrity and outstanding character. The Standing Committee’s written testimony stated that, “Most remarkably, in interviews with individuals in the legal profession and community who know Judge Barrett, whether for a few years or decades, not one person uttered a negative word about her character.”

On the issue of professional competence, one person interviewed for the evaluation stated, “The myth is real. She is a staggering academic mind.” In evaluating her judicial temperament, the Standing Committee considers a nominee’s “compassion, decisiveness, open-mindedness, courtesy, patience, freedom from bias, and commitment to equal justice under the law.” Again, Barrett got high marks. Roberts noted that one interviewee said, “She was always willing to be helpful and engage with others on a topic even when she had a different philosophy and when she writes in dissent, she is very collegial.”

Graham and several members of the Senate Committee praised the ABA’s efforts and hard work and expressed gratitude. “I’ve always considered the ABA’s input to be important, even if I sometimes disagree with it,” Graham said. He added that when he became chairman, he felt keeping the ABA evaluations was valuable to the process. “I hope those who follow me will continue it,” he added.

Editor's note: Since publication, Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed on October 26 and sworn in on October 27.

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