Amy Coney Barrett Corrects Amy Klobuchar: ‘I Don’t Attack People, Just Ideas’

Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit set the record straight Tuesday with regard to questions of character and judicial partiality, telling Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar that she does not “attack people, just ideas.”

The remark came during the second day of Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing held before the Senate Judiciary Committee, when Klobuchar accused the judge of having previously criticized Chief Justice John Roberts for his majority decision in the 2012 case that saw the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate upheld as constitutional.

“Did you say that? That [Roberts] pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute?” Klobuchar asked.

“One thing I want to clarify is you said that I criticized Chief Justice Roberts,” Barrett responded. “And I don’t attack people, just ideas.”

“OK,” Klobuchar replied.

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“That was just designed to make a comment about his reasoning in that case — which, as I’ve said before, is consistent with the way the majority opinion characterized it as the less plausible reading of the statute,” Barrett added.

It was not the first time a high-profile Democrat had raised concerns regarding the continued safety of the Affordable Care Act under a more conservative Supreme Court.

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Democratic Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, as well as 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, have all suggested that Barrett’s personal stance on the case of National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius is proof she would vote in favor of overturning the ruling and dissolving the ACA, if elevated to the Supreme Court.

These allegations stem largely from the existence of publicly available 2017 legal review published by Notre Dame Law School, in which Barrett argued the grounds upon which the Roberts court had ruled the ACA’s individual mandate constitutional were contrived.

“Roberts pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute,” Barrett wrote. “He construed the penalty imposed on those without health insurance as a tax, which permitted him to sustain the statute as a valid exercise of the taxing power; had he treated the payment as the statute did — as a penalty — he would have had to invalidate the statute as lying beyond Congress’s commerce power.”

Barrett is in no way guaranteed to rule in favor of overturning Sebelius, however, with her originalist judicial philosophy and firm support for stare decisis suggesting she is likely to uphold personally unfavorable precedents unless absolutely necessary.

The judge’s Tuesday response to Klobuchar seems to have been something of a nod to her personal mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

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Another stalwart originalist, Scalia was known to have fostered a deep and long-lasting friendship with the recently deceased Democrat-appointed justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Asked by CBS News in 2008 to explain such relationships given his penchant for frequent — and often aggressive — legal dissents, Scalia said, “I attack ideas, I don’t attack people.”

“Some very good people have some very bad ideas,” he added.

“If you can’t separate the two, you got to get another day job.”

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