Not the first question that would occur to me to ask when interviewing a very Catholic mother of seven, but Hirono’s prone to losing her mind during Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Remember two years ago when she said Brett Kavanaugh might not enjoy the same presumption of innocence on a rape claim as everyone else because he’s a judicial conservative?
Or when she asked American men — writ large — to just shut up for awhile?
I probably have it wrong. She doesn’t lose her mind during Court confirmations. She lost her mind some time ago and we only notice during confirmation hearings.
Although, having said that, this clip isn’t quite as outrageous as the headline might suggest:
Sen. Mazie Hirono asks ACB "since you became a legal adult, have you ever made unwanted requests for sexual favors or committed any verbal or physical harassment or assault of a sexual nature?" pic.twitter.com/6JgLkoIXIF
— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) October 13, 2020
She’s not pulling Kavanaugh 2.0 here on Barrett, she’s enforcing a general #MeToo policy which she applies in all confirmation hearings. She announced it at the start of 2018:
Starting today, I'm asking nominees to our courts, under oath, whether or not they have a history of sexual assault or harassment. Like in other industries, our judges are in positions of power & #TimesUp. pic.twitter.com/Jk0NcTBi3h
— Senator Mazie Hirono (@maziehirono) January 10, 2018
She asks this question of all nominees and felt, I guess, that evenhandedness required her to ask it of Barrett as well even though the exchange looks preposterous.
She also took a cheap shot at Barrett by dinging her for using the anodyne term “sexual preference” in an answer this morning:
Sen. Mazie Hirono scolds ACB for using the term "sexual preference" when answering a question about Obergefell this morning, saying that the term is "offensive and outdated." pic.twitter.com/HcFpRQbD9X
— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) October 13, 2020
Barrett had to clean it up in an answer during Q&A with Joni Ernst because Hirono didn’t give her a chance to respond:
Amy Coney Barrett apologizes after Sen. Hirono calls her out for mistaking "sexual preference" for "sexual orientation." pic.twitter.com/Gp94UvPF6c
— The Recount (@therecount) October 13, 2020
I think it’s quite likely that Barrett will vote to overturn Roe if given the chance but highly, highly unlikely that even a 6-3 conservative SCOTUS would vote to overturn Obergefell, the case that deemed gay marriage protected by the Constitution. The Court would be reluctant to throw the legal status of thousands of gay unions into sudden doubt. But Democrats need some sort of rallying point against Barrett and she’s given them nothing else during her hearing, so this weak sauce from Hirono will have to suffice.
Here’s a surprising poll from The Economist that caught my eye this morning. Barrett has the lowest net approval rating of any nominee in nearly 30 years.
Other polls on her nomination cut against that. For instance, a Morning Consult survey published last week found that, by a plurality of 46/31, Americans think Barrett should be confirmed. That doesn’t squarely contradict the possibility that they disapprove of her — they may think Trump is owed deference on his pick, or that SCOTUS needs its vacancy filled ASAP before the election — but it’s hard to reconcile the data.
My guess is that much of the “disapproval” of Barrett isn’t about her at all. What’s striking in the graph above is how approval for each nominee dating back to Ginsburg has grown progressively smaller, with the sole exception of the low approval for Sonia Sotomayor in 2009. That trend feels like a reflection of the increasing bitterness of American partisanship over time, with added bitterness during SCOTUS confirmations because of the high constitutional stakes. Ginsburg, one of the most liberal justices of her generation, was confirmed 96-3. Barrett will be lucky to get a pure party-line vote. That has nothing to do with either nominee and everything to do with how central Supreme Court politics has become to both parties.
But the fact that Barrett is cracked up to be the fifth vote for overturning Roe is probably contributing to dimmer views of her, as is her misfortune in being tapped to replace a liberal icon on the Court and the circumstances of her nomination being rammed through before Americans get a chance to vote. Combine all of that with intense animosity towards Trump from the left in the final days of a nasty presidential race and there’s destined to be spillover in views of Barrett herself. It won’t stop the confirmation train, needless to say.
Update: Ah, perfect. Guess who used the very offensive term “sexual preference” at a roundtable this past May? Right — Democratic presidential nominee and two-time VP Joe Biden.