Judge Barrett, appearing in the hearing room with six of her seven children and her husband, seated behind her, stressed her impartiality and her personal story. Americans “deserve an independent Supreme Court,” she said in a brief statement. She invoked the memory of her mentor, the archconservative Justice Antonin Scalia, leaving little doubt about her adherence to a strict judicial philosophy that has most often led her to conservative legal opinions.
At 48, Judge Barrett could sit on the court for decades, with the potential to bolster a conservative majority that could have broad effects on American life, including civil rights, the powers of businesses, the ability of the government to regulate them and myriad other issues. For all the partisan rancor, senators raised no doubts about her credentials.
The hearing, playing out during a pandemic that has killed nearly 215,000 Americans, was historic in other ways. It was the first Supreme Court hearing to feature videoconferencing, with a handful of senators, including Kamala Harris of California, the Democratic nominee for vice president, participating remotely and underscoring the risk of infection. It featured the technical difficulties to which many Americans have become accustomed while working outside the office, including when Ms. Harris’s voice echoed loudly at one point during her virtual statement, and when Patricia O’Hara, a professor emerita at Notre Dame, could not figure out how to unmute herself to give her introduction of Judge Barrett. (She later recovered and delivered glowing remarks.)
Piles of masks, pumps of hand sanitizer and a new socially distant layout awaited lawmakers inside the sparsely populated hearing room. And members of the public were not allowed in at all, casting an unusual calm over a proceeding that has stirred intense passions. Outside the Capitol complex, where protesters from the right and left gathered, some dressed in hazmat suits, at least 21 people were arrested.
Democrats sought to capitalize on the juxtaposition, raging against Republicans’ insistence on holding a hearing in the middle of a deadly pandemic that has sickened the president and at least two Republican members of the committee after they attended the White House event that Mr. Trump held last month to present Judge Barrett as his nominee. One of those members, Senator Mike Lee of Utah, attended the hearing in person, prompting concerns although he presented a doctor’s note clearing him to be in public. Mr. Graham, for his part, refused to be retested, saying it was not necessary.