Skip to main content


A tale of two nominations

Kavanaugh, Barrett hearings couldn’t have been more different

A tale of two nominations

Feinstein hugs Graham at the close of the con­firmation ­hearing for Amy Coney Barrett. (Samuel Corum/Pool via AP)

At the end of the four consecutive days of Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearing, a maskless Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., reached across the aisle to give Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a bear hug.

“This has been one of the best sets of hearings that I’ve participated in, and I want to thank you for your fairness,” she told the chairman in her concluding remarks. “It leaves one with a lot of hopes, a lot of questions, and even some ideas perhaps of good bipartisanship legislation we can put together.”

Feinstein now faces calls from her own party and outside groups like Demand Justice and NARAL Pro-Choice America to step down as the committee’s top Democrat, all due to the praise for Graham.

Feinstein’s gesture provided a stark contrast to the confirmation hearing that occurred in the same room just two years earlier. No such hugs made headlines when lawmakers wrapped up the initial hearing for now–Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

To call the confirmation process for Kavanaugh rancorous would probably be the understatement of 2018. But Barrett’s smooth hearing—the Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to advance her nomination to the full Senate—seemed to be an outlier in 2020, a year when nearly every other major political story comes with the modifier “unprecedented.”

Barrett’s hearing included one unprecedented aspect: the backdrop of COVID-19. 

She will reach results that some of us will criticize, maybe even disdain. We have seen this before, and we will see it again.

Two years ago, an unremitting line of spectators took turns sitting in rows at the back of the hearing room to witness history. Some supported Kava­naugh. Detractors unfurled banners and signs they’d smuggled under jackets or in purses and stood to yell chants. 

The protests seemed to unnerve Kavanaugh. He’d often take a quick gulp of water as police removed demonstrators behind him. Capitol Hill police arrested over 200 protesters during the hearing. After accusations of sexual misconduct surfaced against Kavanaugh, protesters confronted lawmakers in the hallways.

But Barrett’s hearing was calm. The Capitol has been closed to visitors for months. Inside the hearing room, reporters, photographers, lawmakers, and staff mostly adhered to social distancing protocols. Most lawmakers wore masks, except while speaking. At press stakeouts outside the room, yellow signs marked the required 6 feet of distance between people. Lawmakers seeking to avoid questions had a much easier time slipping out of reach: New coronavirus regulations banned “walk and talks,” where reporters follow lawmakers to their next destination and press them with questions.

Concerned citizens, both for and against Barrett’s confirmation, had to stay outside the Capitol. On the third day of the hearing, a group of young women with Students for Life toted signs in front of the Supreme Court building in support of Barrett. They said they see her nomination as a pro-life success story: She and husband Jesse show that having children doesn’t stand in the way of a woman achieving professional success. 

California resident John Bjornstad told me he opposed Barrett’s confirmation because of two words: “Merrick Garland.” Republicans moving in an election year to confirm Trump’s nominee when they had refused even to meet with President Barack Obama’s replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat in 2016 convinced Bjornstad that “hypocrisy will be the legacy of the GOP.”

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

On the last day of Barrett’s hearing, as with Kavanaugh’s hearing, the committee heard witnesses. Both Kavanaugh and Barrett received a “well qualified” rating from representatives from the American Bar Association. Republicans lined up witnesses who spoke personally to the nominee’s character and qualifications. Democrats lined up witnesses who said Barrett’s confirmation threatened certain causes, such as the Affordable Care Act or abortion.

Some pro-Barrett witnesses argued against the notion that her conservative worldview or Roman Catholic faith would make her rule according to one political party’s preferences. University of Virginia law professor Saikrishna Prakash in his statement said that both political parties should expect Barrett’s rulings to disappoint them at times: “She will reach results that some of us will criticize, maybe even disdain. We have seen this before, and we will see it again.”

The vacancy that Kavanaugh ultimately filled fell on a midterm election year, but no October surprise overtook the headlines about the hearing itself. But as Barrett’s hearing neared its end, a potential October surprise directed at Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden surfaced, then was quickly stifled.

On Oct. 14, the New York Post published a story claiming Biden’s son Hunter attempted to involve his father in his business dealings with Chinese and Ukrainian corporations. The Biden campaign denied any meeting occured between then–Vice President Joe Biden and a Ukrainian gas company executive.

The Post based the story on emails from an abandoned hard drive obtained by President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. 

Twitter and Facebook initially halted shares of the story on their platforms. Twitter said the report violated its “hacked materials policy,” and Facebook cast doubt on the article’s veracity. Their actions inflamed Republican lawmakers, who accused the social media giants of censorship. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to allow Graham to subpoena Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

This year it’s the Hunter Biden story accounting for drama, not Barrett’s nomination. “I just want to say to my Democratic colleagues, I have lost sleep over this hearing. I did not know how it would go,” Graham said in his closing remarks at Barrett’s hearing. “Thank you on behalf of the country for allowing us to get through this hearing in a fashion that I think it is befitting of the Senate.”

Harvest Prude

Harvest Prude

Harvest is a political reporter for WORLD's Washington Bureau. She is a World Journalism Institute and Patrick Henry College graduate. Harvest resides in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter @HarvestPrude.


You must be a WORLD Member and logged in to the website to comment.
  •  Xion's picture
    Posted: Thu, 10/22/2020 01:23 pm

    It is true that the Democrats didn't go completely insane and try to ruin ACB's life.  So there's that.  But they did boycott her vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

    It is difficult to understand why a court or justices would be political.  No ruling should be political.  And yet here we are.

  • JA
    Posted: Thu, 10/22/2020 04:42 pm

    I have massive respect and admiration for Amy Coney Barrett. She is a fantastic example of a public servant who is poised, responsible, and NOT in it for herself.

    I don't think it was an accident that she was at the center of the most gracious proceeding that has come out of Washington D.C. in a long time.

  • JerryM
    Posted: Thu, 10/22/2020 06:53 pm


    Diane Feinstein's statement: "This has been one of the best sets of hearings that I’ve participated in, and I want to thank you for your fairness..."


    Kamala Harris's tweet: "This is an illegitimate process—and the American people know it. We will not stand for it."

  • BF
    Posted: Fri, 10/23/2020 01:23 am

    Dianne Feinstein? Well, good for her. I'm mildly encouraged. 

  • OldMike
    Posted: Fri, 10/23/2020 06:44 am

    I am hoping that Senator Feinstein's gesture signals a sweeping change in the way we do politics.  At the very least, it shows that even people we may vehemently disagree with are not necessarily monsters.  But I'm hoping for a great deal more--I'm hoping there are Democratic votes for Judge Barrett's confirmation and that the process is greeted by vast numbers of American People saying, "Whew! It's about time!  This is how we want things done ALL the time."  And that the usual loud angry haters who condemn the confirmation, and the Dem "traitors" who vote for it, are told by a great many of us, "Stuff it!"  And that the radicals stand in open mouth silence, astounded that they have been cancelled. 

    Guess I can dream. 

  • Big Jim
    Posted: Sat, 10/24/2020 02:19 am

    Gee, I guess I'm an uncurable cynic but I see all this as political calculus. The Dems got burned by the Kavanaugh hearings, losing several Senate seats as a result of their out-of-line behavior. Ms. Barrett makes for a much more sympathetic figure than Brett Kavanaugh. So why create a ruckus and risk compromising Senate seats, especially when polling data shows the Dems poised to take back the Senate majority? Simply play nice, win the majority on Nov. 3 ... then come down like a hammer on the (new) Republican minority. We'll see how nice the Dems play when they're in the advantage.

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Wed, 10/28/2020 12:48 am

    Big Jim said it accurately!