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Supreme Court Justice nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett during the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice on Capitol Hill on October 12, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds - Pool/Getty Images)
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Health Care Is Focus As Barrett Supreme Court Hearing Opens

Supreme Court Justice nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett during the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice on Capitol Hill on October 12, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds - Pool/Getty Images)

Hearing on the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court

LIVE: Day 1 of the hearing on the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Posted by KSL 5 TV on Monday, October 12, 2020

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate Judiciary Committee, meeting on a federal holiday, kicked off four days of statements and testimony in the confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court of the United States.

It’s taking place in an environment that has been altered by the coronavirus pandemic. Some senators were taking part remotely, and the hearing room itself was arranged with health concerns in mind.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., opened the hearing acknowledging “the COVID problem in America is real.” But he said, “We do have a country that needs to move forward safely.”

Graham acknowledged the obvious: “This is going to be a long, contentious week.”

Barrett, a federal appeals court judge, was to tell senators that she is “forever grateful” for Ginsburg’s trailblazing path as a woman. But she is resolved to maintain the perspective of her own mentor, the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and “apply the law as written,” according to her prepared opening remarks for the hearings.

“Courts are not designed to solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life,” Barrett says in the remarks, which The Associated Press obtained.

Republicans are moving at a breakneck pace to seat Barrett before the Nov. 3 election to secure Trump’s pick, which would put her on the bench for any election-related challenges.

Democrats are trying in vain to delay the fast-track confirmation by raising fresh concerns about the safety of meeting during the pandemic after two GOP senators on the panel tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, one of those who tested positive, was in the hearing room Monday after his spokesman said he was symptom-free. The other affected senator, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, was participating remotely, though he too is symptom-free, his spokesman said. Both tested positive 10 days ago.

Among senators who will not set foot in the hearing room because of coronavirus concerns is Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris.

“We are 22 days away from an election and people are voting right now. And that’s the focus given that they’re trying to push through, ram through a Supreme Court justice for a lifetime appointment while almost seven million people have already voted,” Harris said as she arrived at her Senate office.

The committee released a letter from the Architect of the Capitol on Sunday that said the hearing room had been set up in consultation with the Office of Attending Physician with appropriate distance between seats and air ventilation systems that meet or exceed industry standards.

Graham said that the hearing room was “CDC-compliant.” He said Sunday that he took a coronavirus test last week and is “negative.”

Trump chose Barrett after the death last month of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The country will get an extended look at Barrett over the next three days in hearings like none other during the heated election environment and the pandemic limiting public access.

Faith and family punctuate her testimony, and she said would bring “a few new perspectives” as the first mother of school-age children on the nine-member court.

Barrett says she uses her children as a test when deciding cases, asking herself how she would view the decision if one of her children were the party she was ruling against.

“Even though I would not like the result, would I understand that the decision was fairly reasoned and grounded in the law?” she says in the prepared remarks.

A Roman Catholic, she says she believes in the “power of prayer.” Barrett’s religious views and past leadership role in a Catholic faith community pose a challenge for Democrats as they try to probe her judicial approach to abortion, gay marriage and other social issues without veering into inappropriate questions of her faith.

Ordinarily, Barrett would get to show off her family and seven children. But the White House event announcing her nomination, in which most of the audience did not wear masks, has been labeled a “superspreader” for the coronavirus.

More than two dozen people linked to the Sept. 26 Rose Garden event, including the two GOP senators, have contracted COVID-19 since then. Barrett and her family went maskless at the event. She and her husband, Jesse, tested positive for the virus earlier this year and recovered, two administration officials have said.

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Associated Press writers Matthew Daly and Michael Balsamo in Washington and Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento, California, contributed to this report.

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