As questioning got underway, Judge Barrett described her judicial philosophy, calling herself a strict textualist and originalist in the tradition of her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
“In English, that means I interpret the Constitution as a law,” said Judge Barrett. “The text is text, and I understand it to have the meaning that it had at the time people ratified it. It does not change over time, and it is not up to me to update it or infuse my own views into it.”
Asked by Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and the Judiciary Committee chairman, if it would be accurate to call her a “female Scalia,” Judge Barrett said that he had been a mentor. But she added: “I want to be careful to say if I am confirmed, you would not be getting Justice Scalia. You would be getting Justice Barrett, and that is because not all originalists agree.”
The exchange came as Mr. Graham and Judge Barrett sought to push back on Democrats’ portrayal of the nominee as a right-wing activist chosen to undermine civil rights, the Affordable Care Act and environmental law. Republicans have instead worked to focus on the qualifications of Judge Barrett, and to emphasize her status as an accomplished working mother of seven.
At one point, Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, invited her to hold up the pad she had in front of her at the witness table, prompting her to hold up a blank page, showing that she was delivering her hourslong testimony, including detailed legal references, without any notes.
Justices do not set an agenda, Judge Barrett said, they respond to the cases that come before them. The description of the process was accurate, but also largely irrelevant in today’s legal world, where interest groups seek out and advance cases to come to the Supreme Court for the express purpose of getting justices to rule on policies to match their political beliefs.
“Judges cannot just wake up one day and say, ‘I have an agenda — I like guns, I hate guns, I like abortion, I hate abortion,’ and walk in like a royal queen and impose their will on the world,” Judge Barrett said.
When Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee’s top Democrat, reminded Judge Barrett that Justice Scalia had famously written that the Roe v. Wade decision establishing abortion rights was wrongly decided and should be overturned, Judge Barrett refused to clarify her own views on the issue.
Citing the line other nominees have used, she said she could not comment on legal issues that might come back before the court, beyond simply discussing the role of precedent generally in the law.
Ms. Feinstein was not pleased. “On something that is a major cause with major effects on over half of the population of this country who are women, it is distressing not to get a straight answer,” she said.
Judge Barrett would not budge.
“I have no agenda to try and overrule Casey,” she said, referring to another abortion rights case. “I have an agenda to stick to the rule of law and decide cases as they come.”
In his questioning, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, presented Judge Barrett with a 2006 advertisement she had signed in support of overturning Roe v. Wade and its “barbaric legacy.” He asked if she agreed with the group behind it which had argued elsewhere that in vitro fertilization ought to be criminalized.
“I signed it on the way out of church,” Judge Barrett said. “It was consistent with the views of my church, and it simply said we support the right to life from conception to natural death. It took no position on I.V.F.”
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, devoted his time to lambasting the influence of the Federalist Society, the conservative group that has guided President Trump’s judicial appointments and in which Judge Barrett has been increasingly involved over the last six years.
With flow charts and financial figures, Mr. Whitehouse, who did not ask any questions of the judge, highlighted what he called a coordinated right-wing, dark-money effort to capture the federal courts.
“It’s one scheme, with the same funders selecting judges, funding campaigns for the judges and then showing up in courts in these orchestrated amicus flotillas and telling judges what to do,” said Mr. Whitehouse, who has long criticized the libertarian-leaning society’s alliance with big corporations.
Judge Barrett belonged to the group from 2005 to 2006, according to biographical information submitted to the Senate. In 2014, she renewed her ties to the group and kept them constant until her confirmation to the bench. She also picked up an increasing number of speaking engagements in the waning years of the Obama administration, delivering lectures to the Federalist Society at college campuses such as Duke and Harvard.
Mr. Whitehouse was among the Democrats who earlier this year supported a potential ban on membership among federal judges in the Federalist Society, which was proposed by an ethics panel that advises the federal judiciary. More than 200 federal judges, a majority of them appointed by Mr. Trump, objected, arguing that the group was being held to a double standard and that such a policy would jeopardize their affiliations with law schools or religious organizations that the public might see as liberal or conservative. In July, the ethics panel determined that membership decisions are “ultimately best left to the judgment of individual judges.”
Judge Barrett terminated her official membership in the Federalist Society in 2017, according to her most recent questionnaire submitted to the Senate this year, though she has remained a prominent speaker at the group’s events.
Last fall, at the Federalist Society’s annual conference in Washington, Judge Barrett spoke about originalism, the theory of interpreting the Constitution according to the intended meaning of those who wrote it. She appeared on a panel with Judge Thomas Hardiman, a Bush appointee to the lower courts who was also on Mr. Trump’s public list of potential picks for the Supreme Court.
Judge Barrett invoked her predecessors in refusing to say how she would rule in potential cases on abortion, the election and same-sex marriage — and a pending case on the Affordable Care Act.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last month and whose seat Judge Barrett hopes to take, had distilled nominees’ responsibilities into a pithy phrase: “no hints, no forecasts, no previews.” Judge Barrett said she would adopt the same stance.
“That had been the practice of nominees before her, but everybody calls it the Ginsburg rule because she stated it so concisely and it has been the practice of every nominee since,” Judge Barrett said.
As it happened, though, and as Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California noted, Justice Ginsburg herself, at her own 1993 confirmation hearing, was quite forthcoming about her views on abortion.
“This is something central to a woman’s life, to her dignity,” Justice Ginsburg said at her hearing. “It’s a decision that she must make for herself. And when government controls that decision for her, she’s being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.”
Judge Barrett’s approach was, though, in line with the approach of most nominees since Judge Robert H. Bork’s expansive answers at his 1987 confirmation hearings helped doom his nomination.
Judge Barrett took pains to keep her distance from any discussion of which precedents she might reconsider, making an exception only for Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 school desegregation case. That was, she said, a “super-precedent” — “precedent that is so well-established that it would be unthinkable that it would ever be overruled.”
Otherwise, she said, she would reserve judgment, citing Justice Elena Kagan, one of President Obama’s appointees.
“I’m going to invoke Justice Kagan’s description which I think is perfectly put,” Judge Barrett said. “She said that she was not going to grade precedent or give it a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down.”
“It would be wrong of me to do that as a sitting judge,” Judge Barrett said. “Whether I say I love it or I hate it, it signals to litigants that I might tilt one way or another in a pending case.”
She also said that she had not, and never would, promise to rule a certain way on specific cases.
“I’m not willing to make a deal — not with the committee, not with the president,” she said. “I’m independent.”
As Republicans spent some of the second day emphasizing Judge Barrett’s Catholic faith as part of their strategy to paint Democrats’ opposition to her as anti-religion, Judge Barrett insisted on Tuesday that she could separate her personal religious beliefs from her judicial work.
While acknowledging the importance of Catholicism to her and her family, Judge Barrett assured Mr. Graham that she would not apply the tenets of her religion to matters before the court.
“I have a life brimming with people who have made different choices, and I have never tried, in my personal life, to impose my choices on them,” said Judge Barrett, who teaches at Notre Dame, a Catholic university. “The same is true professionally.”
Though Democrats have not mentioned or alluded to her faith, Republicans have repeatedly accused Democrats of targeting her for her beliefs. (Of the eight seated justices, five were raised Catholic, though Justice Neil Gorsuch is now a member of an Episcopal church.)
During confirmation hearings for her current seat on an appeals court in 2017, Judge Barrett faced probing questions over her ability to separate her beliefs from her legal rulings, and her involvement in People of Praise, a tight knit Christian community, has also been scrutinized.
The group has fewer than 2,000 members and is inspired by the traditions of charismatic Christianity, including speaking in tongues.
On Tuesday, Judge Barrett told senators that when President Trump offered her the nomination, she and her husband, Jesse, “knew that our faith would be caricatured, we knew our family would be attacked” as part of the confirmation process, and had discussed whether to submit to that level of scrutiny before she accepted.
“What sane person would go through that if there was not a benefit on the other side?” Judge Barrett told the committee. “The benefit, I think, is that I am committed to the rule of law and the role of the Supreme Court and dispensing equal justice for all.”
“I am not the only person who could do this job, but I was asked,” Judge Barrett added. “I should serve my country, and my family is all in on that because they share my belief in the rule of law.”
In her introductory statement on Monday, Judge Barrett spoke at length about her family life as a mother of seven and her years of work at Notre Dame.
In questioning Judge Barrett over the coming days, Republicans are likely to continue building a profile of the nominee as an accomplished legal scholar inappropriately scrutinized by Democrats for her personal values.
In doing so, they are expected to invite Judge Barrett to speak about her role as a mentor and a teacher, and as a mother to a large family that includes two adopted children. The approach will allow Senate Republicans, whose majority is at risk, to appeal to women and independent voters whose support their candidates need to win re-election.
Judge Barrett refused on Tuesday to say whether she would recuse herself, if confirmed, from considering an upcoming case in which Republican states are trying again to get the Supreme Court to strike down the Affordable Care Act — or from any case that may arise if there is a legal dispute over the outcome of next month’s presidential election.
Under questioning from Mr. Graham about whether she would participate in the pending health care case, the nominee, who has criticized a past Supreme Court decision that declined to strike down a key part of the health care law, said whether a justice should recuse herself is a “legal issue” and “not a question that I could answer in the abstract.”
She also cited a statute that says, among other things, that judges should recuse themselves “whenever their impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” However, Judge Barrett also acknowledged that whether that standard has been met is up to each individual justice to decide for herself.
Later, under questioning from Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont — who noted that President Trump has said he needs his nominee confirmed because he thinks Democrats will try to steal the election from him and it will end up in court — Judge Barrett also did not answer, instead saying she would faithfully work through the process of deciding what to do.
Mr. Leahy observed that she had merely offered a “sort of boilerplate response on recusal.”
Supreme Court justices do not like to recuse themselves, in part because, unlike at the district and appeals court levels, there is no one to replace them if they step aside. If a justice decides to stay on a case despite accusations of a conflict of interest, there is no appeal.
Asked about other issues — notably abortion rights — Judge Barrett spoke about the doctrine of “stare decisis,” which says the Supreme Court should be reluctant to revisit issues it has previously decided.
But she noted that the legal question at issue in the upcoming Affordable Care Act case — whether the entire law must be struck down because one part of it has been deemed flawed, or whether the flawed part is “severable” from the rest — was not addressed in the earlier case, meaning there was no precedent to respect. And she signaled that she did not think she had said or written anything that expressed a view on the current matter.
“Really, the issue in the case is this doctrine of severability and that’s not something that I have ever talked about with respect to the Affordable Care Act,” she said. “Honestly, I haven’t written anything about severability that I know of at all.”
In some of her most personal remarks before the panel yet, Judge Barrett described how “very, very personal” the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody, was for her family, which includes two Black children.
Asked by Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, whether she watched the video of Mr. Floyd being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a white police officer, Judge Barrett detailed how the footage had prompted difficult conversations with her children and how she and her 17-year-old daughter, Vivian, who was adopted from Haiti, “wept together in my room.”
“My children, to this point in their lives, have had the benefit of growing up in a cocoon where they have not yet experienced hatred or violence,” she said.
Pressed by Mr. Durbin to explain how, as an originalist, she views racism, Judge Barrett responded that “it is an entirely uncontroversial and obvious statement” that “racism persists in our country.” But she declined to elaborate further.
“Giving broader statements or making broader diagnoses about the problem of racism is kind of beyond what I’m capable of doing as a judge,” she said.
And when Mr. Durbin tried to make a segue to an opinion she wrote that he argued should be viewed in light of the history of racism in America, Judge Barrett was similarly unwilling to be drawn in.
Mr. Durbin pointed to a 2019 dissent in which Judge Barrett argued that the right to bear arms should not be taken away because of a nonviolent felony conviction, but the right to vote could. The position, he said, would make it far harder for governments to slow the flow of weapons into cities like Chicago, in his home state. Revoking the right to vote, he said, disproportionately affected Black Americans and could be traced back to voter suppression campaigns by white Americans after the Civil War.
“I don’t get it,” he said, referring to the defendant in the case. “You are saying that a felony should not disqualify Ricky from buying an AK-47, but using a felony conviction to deny somebody the right to vote is O.K.”
Judge Barrett said she thought Mr. Durbin had misread her opinion, but argued that the position that the right to vote could be more easily curtailed than the right to own a firearm was not original to her nor necessarily new.
“I express no view on whether that was a good idea or whether they should do that,” she said.
With Democrats all but conceding that Judge Barrett’s confirmation is inevitable, much of the questioning has been colored by the broader political climate in which the confirmation process is taking place.
Mr. Graham opened the hearing with a political speech on the Affordable Care Act, and Democrats were using their time to ask Judge Barrett about her views on access to health care — a theme that helped them win the House majority in the 2018 midterm elections — and abortion rights, in an effort to emphasize the stakes of her confirmation for independent voters and women.
The pandemic’s impact was felt inside the hearing room, which was equipped with hand sanitizer and arranged to allow senators and attendees to sit far from each other. Senator Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, who tested positive for the virus less than two weeks ago, returned to the hearing room after he said he was cleared by his personal doctor on Tuesday to resume in-person activities. Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, who had also tested positive, returned on Monday.
Some Democrats planned to stay away to underscore their concerns about holding the hearing during the pandemic. Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, questioned Judge Barrett over videoconference, and for several minutes, audio problems prevented the nominee and others in the room from hearing him. At one point, Judge Barrett asked for the volume to be raised so she could understand what the senator was asking.
“As you know, I stayed away,” Mr. Leahy said, “simply because I don’t think it is safe for you or anybody else to be there.”
Facing a difficult re-election battle, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, opened the second day of Supreme Court confirmation hearings with a prolonged political speech on health care, which he justified as a demonstration of “the difference between politics and judging.”
Mr. Graham framed his remarks as a rebuttal to Democrats on the panel, who on Monday narrowly focused their opening remarks on how Judge Barrett’s confirmation could affect Americans’ access to health care, a theme that helped them win the House majority in the 2018 midterm elections.
But his remarks also functioned as a televised stump speech from the dais of the Judiciary Committee for South Carolina voters considering whether to support his Democratic challenger, Jaime Harrison.
“All of you over there who want to impose Obamacare on South Carolina? We do not want it,” he said. “We want something better. We want something different. You know what we want? South Carolina care.”
Mr. Graham practically boasted: “That’s got nothing to do with this hearing. It’s got everything to do with politics.”
The South Carolina Republican is still favored to win re-election in a state that almost certainly will back President. Trump, but he is fighting a flood of Democratic money. Mr. Harrison raised a stunning $57 million in the third quarter of 2020, the highest quarterly fund-raising total for any Senate candidate in United States history.
Mr. Graham gave a sardonic nod to Mr. Harrison’s campaign coffers later in the hearing as he questioned Judge Barrett on the Citizens United decision that removed virtually any restrictions on corporate money in politics.
“You and I are going to come closer and closer about regulating money, because I do not know what is going on out there,” Mr. Graham said to a Democratic senator on the panel. “There is a lot of money being raised in this campaign. I would like to know where the hell some of it is coming from, but that is not your problem.”
Judge Barrett is considered to be ideologically conservative by Democrats and Republican alike, but since 2002, when she returned to South Bend, Ind., to teach law at Notre Dame, she has had a mixed voting history, according to information provided by the St. Joseph County voter registration office.
That mix of Democratic and Republican primary votes does not necessarily mean she could be called a “swing voter,” however.
In 2011, Judge Barrett voted in the Democratic primary, as Pete Buttigieg was running for mayor of South Bend in a crowded race. But that field included a candidate with ties to Trinity School, a school founded by the small religious group to which the judge belongs. Judge Barrett also sends some of her children to the school, and she formerly sat on its board.
In 2016, Judge Barrett voted in the Republican primary, as President Trump was seeking the Republican nomination.
In Indiana, voters need not be registered with a party to vote in a primary but rather may choose a ballot, of Democrats or Republicans running for party nominations, as they vote.
The Barretts have a large extended family, which has a wide range of religious and political views within it. Some in that group have expressed opposition to the judge’s elevation to the Supreme Court because of her staunch conservatism.