Guy Farmer: Dumb and dumber in the U.S. Senate

Federal Appeals Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett, soon to be sworn-in as our newest Supreme Court justice, somehow managed to maintain her composure earlier this month while a couple of Democratic senators made fools of themselves during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings.

To me, it looked like a congressional version of that old movie, "Dumb and Dumber."

Barrett, a supremely well-qualified nominee to the nation's highest court, looked bemused as Sens. Maizie Hirono of Hawaii and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island used their time to ask absurd questions or spin tall tales about far-fetched conspiracy theories. The good citizens of Hawaii and Rhode Island should be embarrassed for their senators and their states.

Hirono distinguished herself by asking Barrett, the devoutly Catholic mother of seven children, whether she had ever committed a sexual assault. Barrett kept a straight face as she replied with a definitive "No, Senator!" Perhaps Hirono thought she was back at last year's contentious confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which turned out to be an extremely ugly exercise in character assassination.

In those hearings Democratic senators went through Kavanaugh's high school yearbook to determine if he ever did or said anything that was politically incorrect. I quickly pulled out my West Seattle High School yearbook, the "Kimtah," to see whether anyone had written anything offensive by today's very sensitive standards. I didn't find anything too offensive but of course "Kimtah" is a Native American word because we were the proud West Seattle Indians. I don't apologize.

Back to Barrett's Senate hearings. Whitehouse spoke for 30 minutes without asking a single question of the nominee. Instead, he digressed into what the Wall Street Journal called "Glenn Beck territory." Whitehouse "devoted his time to a Glenn Beck-style tutorial on the vast right-wing conspiracy (remember that one?) that is supposedly buying the federal courts," the Journal opined. Some of you may know that Beck was too conspiratorial and weird for Fox News.

"Mr. Whitehouse had the bad luck to be followed by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who related Mr. Whitehouse's ties to such Democratic dark money as Demand Justice and Arabella Advisors," the Journal continued, recalling that Whitehouse "had attempted to find the hidden messages in Justice Kavanaugh's high school yearbook."

While senators Hirono and Whitehouse were embarrassing themselves and their constituents, Barrett passed the challenging confirmation hearings test by answering senators' questions with serene dignity to the best of her ability. "To the best of her ability" because the conservative judge invoked the "Ginsburg Rule" — named after her liberal predecessor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg — which advises judicial nominees to avoid giving their personal views on issues that may come before the court. "No hints, no forecasts, no previews," the late Ginsburg told senators during her 1993 confirmation hearings.

So while Democratic senators repeatedly pressed Barrett for her personal views on hot button issues like abortion (Roe v. Wade), Obamacare and presidential elections, she politely declined to answer by invoking the Ginsburg Rule. California senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris — the Democrats' vice presidential nominee — who had earlier criticized Barrett's Catholicism, tiptoed around that issue in their questioning of the judge.

"The dogma lives loudly within you," Feinstein had said when Barrett was confirmed to the Federal Court of Appeals in 2017. "How sad if modern liberalism cannot abide the hopeful center of Amy Coney Barrett's life," Wall Street Journal Deputy Editorial Page Editor Daniel Henninger commented last week. The truth is that liberals can't abide a judge who interprets the Constitution as written.

Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal's senior political columnist.


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