Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, opened Wednesday’s hearing by proclaiming Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s coming confirmation a historic victory for conservative women who he said have faced steeper obstacles in public life than liberal women.
“This is the first time in American history that we’ve nominated a woman who is unashamedly pro-life and embraces her faith without apology, and she is going to the court,” Mr. Graham said.
Judge Barrett, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, has declined repeatedly during the hearings to answer how she would rule on a challenge to the Roe v. Wade decision that established abortion rights, but has made clear that she opposes abortion rights.
“This hearing, to me, is an opportunity to not punch through a glass ceiling, but a reinforced concrete barrier around conservative women,” Mr. Graham said as the second day of questioning by senators began. “You’re going to shatter that barrier.”
Mr. Graham, who is in a tough re-election campaign, echoed statements on Tuesday from the panel’s two Republican women, both of whom argued that conservative women had been marginalized for their beliefs.
“I have never been more proud of the nominee than I am of you,” he said. “This is history being made, folks.”
President Trump’s attacks on the rule of law and the judiciary hung over the proceedings, as Judge Barrett repeatedly parried questions from Democrats about how she viewed matters of presidential power, including whether a president could defy a Supreme Court ruling or pardon himself.
Asked by Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont whether courts had the power to enforce their rulings if a president disobeyed, the judge would not give a definite answer.
While Judge Barrett said that “no man is above the law,” she added, “as a matter of law, the Supreme Court may have the final word, but it lacks control about what happens after that.”
Mr. Leahy tried again, asking whether a president who refused to follow a court ruling would pose a threat to the constitutional system of checks and balances.
She would not directly answer.
“As I said, the Supreme Court cannot control whether or not the president obeys,” she said, noting that Abraham Lincoln had once disobeyed a lower court order during the Civil War.
Judge Barrett was similarly unwilling to engage Mr. Leahy on whether a president had an “absolute right” to pardon himself, as Mr. Trump has claimed that he does.
“That question may or may not arise, but that is one that calls for legal analysis of what the scope of the pardon power is,” she said, adding that she could not offer an opinion on a question that she could be called upon to rule on.
A frustrated Mr. Leahy asked one more, this time focusing on the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which is meant to limit foreign influence on the president by prohibiting him from accepting foreign gifts.
Citing news reports, Mr. Leahy asked if the tens of millions of dollars in business done by Mr. Trump’s hotels and clubs with foreign entities fell under that clause.
Again, no answer from Judge Barrett.
“As a matter being litigated, it’s very clear that is one I can’t express an opinion on, because it could come before me,” she said.
Soon after Wednesday’s hearing started, Americans got a brief tutorial on the legal doctrine of severability from Judge Barrett, elicited by Republicans on the panel.
The point was to signal that the Affordable Care Act may not be in peril when the Supreme Court hears arguments next month on the fate of the law, often called Obamacare. Democrats have focused relentlessly on the threat to the law as they have made their case against Judge Barrett, who they warn would join a 6-3 conservative majority to strike it down.
Even as Republican state officials and the Trump administration are asking the Supreme Court to invalidate the entire Affordable Care Act based on what they say is a flaw in a single provision of the sprawling law, Mr. Graham asked Judge Barrett to describe severability.
She said the doctrine generally requires that courts strike down a single provision of a law and retain the balance of it.
“The presumption,” Judge Barrett said, “is always in favor of severability.”
That is the key issue in next month’s case. After Congress zeroed out the penalty for not obtaining insurance in the so-called individual mandate, Republican state officials argued that the mandate was now unconstitutional. They added, more significantly, that this meant the entire law must fall, including protections for pre-existing conditions.
Judge Barrett did not say how she would vote in the pending case, but the general tenor of her summary suggested that she was skeptical of the maximalist arguments made by Republican officials.
Her general statement was consistent with an opinion in July from Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, Mr. Trump’s last nominee.
“Constitutional litigation is not a game of gotcha against Congress, where litigants can ride a discrete constitutional flaw in a statute to take down the whole, otherwise constitutional statute,” Justice Kavanaugh wrote.
One of the recurring questions Judge Barrett fielded on Tuesday concerned her judicial independence and whether she would recuse herself in any election law cases related to the man who nominated her: President Trump.
Throughout the day, Judge Barrett emphasized that she had made no promises to Mr. Trump or anyone else about how she might rule in the future, even though the president has repeatedly spoken about his intent to add sympathetic voices to the court.
While several Democrats pushed Judge Barrett to commit to recusing herself in cases that concern the president, she repeatedly demurred, insisting only that she would consider any relevant factors that might cast doubt on her impartiality when making that decision.
Like many past nominees, Judge Barrett declined to speculate on how she might rule in hypothetical cases that may arise after her confirmation, including those involving the election. She used the same reasoning to rebuff questions about how she might rule on cases concerning the Affordable Care Act or abortion rights.
Given that any further questions about Judge Barrett’s participation in a hypothetical election case are likely to go unanswered, Democrats may be forced to take a different tack.
On Tuesday, Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, framed a few questions in more concrete terms, such as asking Judge Barrett whether she believed the president should commit to a peaceful transition of power, something he has repeatedly declined to do. While Judge Barrett may argue that she is not in a position to weigh in on the president’s behavior or public statements, Democrats may look to push her to discuss actions Mr. Trump has taken that they see as falling outside of the law, or threatening constitutional norms.
During Tuesday’s confirmation hearing, Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, asked Judge Barrett about her views on climate change. “You know, I’m certainly not a scientist,” she said, and added that “I have read things about climate change — I would not say I have firm views on it.”
Her language may have sounded familiar to anyone who has watched Republican lawmakers wrestle with their party’s longstanding disavowal of climate science: While party stalwarts used to simply deny that human activity is causing the planet to warm dangerously, they increasingly have taken the more neutral “I’m not a scientist” position.
“It’s a dodge that fails to acknowledge the overwhelming scientific consensus that humans are causing the planet to warm,” said Ann Carlson, a faculty director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at U.C.L.A. School of Law, who said she found Judge Barrett’s statement “disturbing.”
She continued, “Judge Barrett is a smart, highly educated person who has spent most of her career in a job that rewards knowledge and intellect. For her not to have firm views on climate change is almost unbelievable.”
The evidence that the planet is warming, and that warming is having destructive effects, has only grown more pressing as more and more Americans have come to understand the links between extreme weather in their own lives — including more destructive hurricanes and wildfires. The issue is increasingly important to voters, and has become a prominent part of the presidential race; President Trump has continued to scoff at the evidence underlying climate change, even saying recently that “I don’t think science knows, actually,” while Joseph R. Biden Jr. promises an aggressive $2 trillion plan to counter global warming.
It is also important to the Supreme Court. In past decisions, the justices have accepted that human-caused climate change is occurring and determined that the Environmental Protection Agency can regulate greenhouse gases in the case Massachusetts v. E.P.A., but a more conservative Supreme Court might revisit the issue.
To Professor Carlson, Judge Barrett’s seemingly anodyne answer “seems like a pretty strong signal to those in the know that she is skeptical of regulating greenhouse gases.”