All eyes will be on Kamala Harris during Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing, which has major political consequences ahead of and after the election.
By Bruce C.T. Wright
Throughout what at times has been a circus-like election season, Kamala Harris has consistently displayed her mastery of political acrobatics. From fending off ridiculous “birther” conspiracy theories to more than holding her own on the debate stage, the senator from California has landed firmly on her feet each time.
But beginning Monday, Harris will likely find herself walking a tightrope of sorts during her questioning of Amy Coney Barrett at the judge’s U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Harris gained plenty of political capital for her pointed line of questioning during Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing in 2018, using that momentum to help launch her presidential campaign early last year. But while she was able to flex her prosecutorial skills while interrogating him about allegations of sexual assault, Nazis in Charlottesville, the Mueller investigation and more, critics all but labeled her an “angry Black woman” in an attempt to discredit her.
This time around, the stakes are even higher as Harris — the Democratic vice-presidential nominee — will have to be aware of possibly turning off swing-state voters who Joe Biden’s campaign is looking to attract in the weeks leading up to Election Day as the hearing inevitably turns to Barrett’s faith, a topic that pro-choice activists say will compel the judge to help overturn Roe v. Wade and make abortion illegal.
Notwithstanding, Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court could also end up helping Donald Trump win re-election should the results of the election be contested and ultimately make its way to the Supreme Court, like what happened two decades ago. If that’s the case again, Trump — who will have confirmed his third Supreme Court Justice in just under four years — will have successfully stacked the nation’s top court with conservatives who will undoubtedly rule in his favor.
In addition to all that, Harris will be trying to convince her Republican-led fellow Senate Judiciary Committee members to delay the hearing until the election has been completed in order to allow the will of the people to dictate who gets to choose the person who fills the seat of Justice Ruth Ginsburg, who died last month.
Barrett is has a reported membership to an alleged religious and pro-life cult called People of Praise. That, critics say, make her an apparent threat to the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized a woman’s right to have an abortion. That is to say nothing about her use of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.
When Barrett’s questioning turns that aspect of her career, many eyes will be on Harris to see how she handles it. “Any missteps will be seized on by Republicans to criticize not just her, but Biden and the entire party,” as the Washington Post noted.
For the record, civil rights groups have condemned Trump for nominating Barrett, saying it undermines the democratic process since voting had already gotten underway by the time the announcement was made.
Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., called out the same Republicans who wouldn’t allow President Barack Obama‘s Supreme Court nominee to have a hearing four years ago being fine with doing so now.
“In 2016, Senators refused even to consider President Obama’s nominee to fill a Supreme Court vacancy that arose when Justice Scalia died in February of that year, deeming it too close to the presidential election,” Ifill said in a statement before continuing later. “Yet, now that the President shares their partisan affiliation, many of those same Senators have reversed course — promising to vote on President Trump’s nominee even though the general election is already underway. Our constitutional democracy depends on those in power acting with principle. For the Senate to disregard a rule it created just four years ago because of partisan considerations demeans both the Senate and the Court, and it is an assault on the rule of law itself.”
Even Barrett once explained why she believed — at the time, at least — that it is wrong to confirm a Supreme Court Justice during an election year.
It is under this context that Harris will be expected to work her Black woman magic without, you know, being “too” Black — whatever that means. It was only in August when Trump harkened back to Harris humbling Kavanugh and called the senator “a mad woman” who had “such hatred with Justice Kavanaugh,” saying she “was the angriest of the group” of “seriously ill people.”
Chances are that Trump will be trying to pin those same unfounded labels on Harris regardless of the confirmation hearing’s outcome, stoking his usual flames of sexism and racism that could help to decide the 2020 election.
However, if history — especially recent history — is any indication, Harris will expertly finesse her time questioning Barrett and tailor her queries in a way to get the precise answers for which he is looking.
The only question is whether it — or anything — can be enough to affect the outcome of the confirmation.