Sen. Mike Lee asks Amy Coney Barrett few questions; gives long speeches instead

(Susan Walsh | Pool photo via AP) Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, listens during a confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Mike Lee was given 31 minutes Tuesday to ask questions of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett in her confirmation hearing. But he launched into long monologues for 83% of his allotted time.

In the end, Barrett spoke for 5 minutes and 15 seconds of Lee’s half-hour, a timed transcript shows.

The senator gave his views on abortion, the Affordable Care Act and court packing, among other topics, with only a few brief questions to Barrett that seemed to be designed to show she either backs his philosophy or would set aside personal views on more controversial ones.

Lee spoke uninterrupted for eight minutes in one stretch that focused mostly on abortion without ever asking Barrett a question specifically on that hot-button issue.

“Have we created a monster?” Lee asked after complaining that Congress has allowed unelected Supreme Court justices to make what amount to political decisions on abortion instead of the politicians elected to represent the will of the people.

At the end of that speech — which complained justices wrote law on abortion instead of interpreting it — Lee asked Barrett about a quote in the Federalist Papers by the “freaking brilliant” Alexander Hamilton who said the judiciary should display judgment, not will.

“Will is the imposition of policy preferences, as happens in the making of law. Judgment is evaluating that law for its consistency with the Constitution,” Barrett said. “A judge who approaches a case as an opportunity for an exercise of will has acted, has betrayed her judicial duty.”

Lee gave another uninterrupted seven-minute monologue complaining about “court packing.” Democratic Senate leaders have threatened to add extra justices if Joe Biden is elected president to add more liberals, in retribution for Republicans quickly pushing Barrett after four years ago refusing to consider Democratic President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland by saying it was too close to the election then.

Lee complained such moves would someday in the future lead Republicans to follow suit until the court “looks like the senate in ‘Star Wars,’ where you’ve got hundreds of people on there. ... You delegitimize the court.”

Lee in that monologue also returned to a topic that created a social media firestorm last week, when he tweeted during the vice presidential debate that “rank democracy” can threaten liberty — and that peace and prosperity are more important.

Lee said Tuesday that the “Constitution is sometimes counterdemocratic. Sometimes it can be described as fundamentally undemocratic. Fact is, the whole reason to have a constitution is to protect us from the impulse of a majority that might be bent on harming the few in the name of the many.”

Lee asked Barrett two short questions about court packing. She agreed with him that the Constitution sets no limit on the number of justices. She agreed that adding more might “possibly” change the way the branches of government interact.

Lee also complained that Democrats contend that confirming Barrett is part of a GOP agenda to strike down the Affordable Care Act — and asked her if it is.

“That’s just not true. I’ve never taken that position,” she replied. “As I’ve also said repeatedly, any policy preferences that I have don’t matter anyway. They’re irrelevant,” and she would put personal feelings aside as she considers cases that arise.

Lee — who is on President Donald Trump’s list of potential future nominees to the Supreme Court — gave a hypothetical question about whether some views, which he then expressed, should disqualify him or others like him from considering an upcoming case on the ACA.

Lee then said that Chief Justice John Roberts “effectively acknowledged that the law, as written, couldn’t pass constitutional muster. And so he rewrote it not just once but twice in order to save it. ... It’s inexcusable that he did that. He misused the judicial authority.”

Barrett said Lee correctly pointed out while setting up his hypothetical that the issues in the earlier case he criticized are “entirely different” from another case coming to the Supreme Court, which focuses on whether parts of the same law can be struck down without taking down the entire law.

Lee concluded his time saying, “You, Judge Barrett, are someone in whom I have immense confidence, immense trust. And I look forward to voting and confirming you.”