Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, won’t answer questions on presidential self-pardon

‘It’s not one in which I can offer a view,’ Trump nominee says

Griffin Connolly
Wednesday 14 October 2020 19:29 BST
Amy Coney Barrett refuses to say whether she would overturn Roe v Wade abortion rights

US Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett has stonewalled senators on the Judiciary Committee asking about her views on abortion rights, the 2010 health care law known as Obamacare, and, now, the rule of law.

Ms Barrett on Wednesday refused to say whether a president could pardon himself if he were charged with a crime because there is no case law on that topic and it’s something that could hypothetically come before her on the high court.

“It’s not one in which I can offer a view,” she said in response to a question from Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

No president has ever been charged with a crime — either before, in, or after office.

Several people on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign team, including his former chairman Paul Manafort and ex-deputy chairman Rick Gates, have been convicted of felonies during the president’s administration.

State and local prosecutors in New York are probing Mr Trump’s business interests and tax filings, and several legal observers believe federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York are sitting on evidence the president committed financial crimes.

In 1974, the Justice Department issued a memo concluding the president could not pardon himself or herself due to “the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case.”

The memo did, however, explain a legal loophole for an indicted president to receive a pardon:

He could temporarily leave office by invoking the 25th Amendment that provides for the vice president to take control of the executive branch if the president is incapacitated. The vice president, acting temporarily as president, could then pardon the sidelined president. The sidelined president — pardon in hand — could then return to his duly elected office.

Ms Barrett has given Senate Democrats similarly vague answers on other questions related to presidential power.

On Wednesday, Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois asked Ms Barrett whether the president could deny a person’s right to vote based on their race.

Ms Barrett, Donald Trump’s pick to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, made the distinction that the Constitution guarantees Americans’ right to vote regardless of their race or sex.

But she would not comment on any hypothetical president’s attempt to deny that right.

On Tuesday, Ms Barrett repeatedly resisted Democratic pleas for her to commit to recusing herself from any Supreme Court decisions with a bearing on the 2020 election, as Mr Trump has made clear he plans to challenge the validity of the election results if he loses, based on an unsubstantiated claim that mail-in ballots are rife with fraud.

A raft of statements by Republicans and the president have created the appearance of a conflict of interest around Ms Barrett’s potential decision on any election disputes, Democrats have said.

“I think [the election] will end up in the Supreme Court," Mr Trump told reporters in September.

“I think it's very important that we have nine justices, and I think the system is going to go very quickly,” Mr Trump said.

Mr Blumenthal and several other Democrats — most notably Senator Chris Coons of Delaware — have made the distinction this week that Ms Barrett, herself, has not done anything wrong.

“It’s not anything you’ve done,” Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said.

“They have indelibly put at issue your integrity through their statements. The president has said he’s putting you on the court as a ninth justice so you can decide the election. He’s been very clear and transparent,” Mr Blumenthal said.

“It would be a dagger at the heart of the court and our democracy if this election is decided by the court instead of the voters.”

Ms Barrett signaled, however, she would be impartial if she were to rule in such a case.

“I certainly hope that all members of the committee have more confidence in my integrity than to think I would allow myself to be used as a pawn to decide this election for the American people,” she said.

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