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Trump's court nominee fields tough questioning on second day of hearings

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Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett speaks during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett speaks during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool
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Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett faced a second day of questions on Capitol Hill on Tuesday where Democratic senators grilled her on issues such as abortion, healthcare, and a potential election fight.

The nominee, a favourite for conservatives, insisted that she did not have a personal agenda, stating that she would decide cases "as they come."

Barrett, a 48-year-old appellate court judge, was nominated to replace liberal icon Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who died last month due to complications from pancreatic cancer.

Her nomination to the court would create a 6-3 conservative majority, tilting the court to the right for years to come.

On her second day of hearings, she insisted her personal conservative views would not influence her legal judgements.

"Judges can’t 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," Barrett told the Senate Judiciary Committee during its second day of hearings.

"It’s not the law of Amy," she said. "It’s the law of the American people."

The top Democrat on the panel Senator Dianne Feinstein said it was "distressing not to get a good answer" on how Barrett would handle landmark abortion cases including Roe v Wade and the follow up case Planned Parenthood v Casey.

"I don’t have an agenda to try to overrule Casey," Barrett said. "I have an agenda to stick to the rule of law and decide cases as they come."

But she also declined to characterise Roe v Wade as a "super-precedent" case that should not be overturned.

"Let’s not make any mistake about it,” said Senator Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, who said that allowing Trump to fill the seat with Barrett "poses a threat to safe and legal abortion in our country."

Barrett, like her former mentor Justice Antonin Scalia, says she is an originalist, meaning she interprets the Constitution's text as it was written at the time.

"I interpret the Constitution as a law, that I interpret its text as text and I understand it to have the meaning that it had at the time people ratified it. So that meaning doesn’t change over time. And it’s not up to me to update it or infuse my own policy views into it," Barrett said.

Republicans have defended Barrett's personal views and Catholic faith against criticism on her potential views on abortion and same-sex marriage.

Senate Republicans have rushed through the nomination hoping to confirm the judge before the November 3 election. The same Senators refused to confirm Barack Obama's 2016 candidate because it was eight months before an election.

But if confirmed, Barrett would join the court before a challenge to the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, that Republicans have tried to repeal.

Barrett told Senators she is "not hostile" to the law despite past writings that have been perceived as critical of it.

"I'm not here on a mission to destroy the Affordable Care Act," Barrett said. Yet she struggled to answer specifics about the law as well.

On racism in the US, she said it "persists" and that the death of George Floyd at the hands of police had a "very personal" effect on her family.

But she told Democratic Senator Dick Durbin that "making broader diagnoses about the problem of racism is kind of beyond what I’m capable of doing as a judge."

She also declined to say whether she would recuse herself from any election related cases.

Senator Lindsay Graham has set an initial committee vote on Barrett's nomination for Thursday, underscoring Republicans' confidence and goal to allow the full Senate to vote on her nomination by the end of the month.