During Tuesday’s Senate confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, Louisiana Republican Senator John Kennedy asked Barrett, “Do you hate little warm puppies?”
His question was meant to mock Democratic California Senator Kamala Harris for asking Barrett whether she believes COVID-19 is infectious, that cigarettes cause cancer and that climate change is both real and a threat to clean air and drinking water.
“If a case that comes before you would require you to consider scientific evidence, my question is will you defer to scientists and those with expertise in the relevant issues before rendering a judgment?” Harris asked Barrett.
Barrett answered, “If a case comes before me involving environmental regulation, I will certainly apply all applicable law deferring when the law requires me to.”
Harris then asked the aforementioned questions, ending by asking, “Do you believe that climate change is happening and is threatening the air we breathe and the water we drink?”
Barrett responded, “You have asked me a series of questions that are completely uncontroversial, like whether COVID-19 is infectious, whether smoking causes cancer and then trying to analogize that to eliciting an opinion from me that is a very contentious matter of public debate… I will not do that, I will not express a view on a matter of public policy, especially when it’s politically controversial, cause that’s inconsistent with the judicial role.”
Harris replied, “Thank you, Judge Barrett. You have made your point clear that you believe [climate change] is a debatable point.”
When it was Kennedy’s turn to ask questions, he began by saying that he wanted to clear up some of Harris’ “accusations.” He asked Barrett if she was racist, if she always ruled in favor of corporations over working people and if she was “against clean air, bright water and environmental justice.”
Barrett said that she is not racist, has a judicial record showing her past rulings against corporations and is in favor of clean air, bright water and environmental justice, adding, “Those are policies that the Congress has pursued in many statutes and I think we all reap the benefits of when those statutes work.”
Kennedy then asked in succession, “Do you support science?”, “Do you support children and prosperity?” and “Do you hate little warm puppies?”
Barrett said yes to the first two questions and laughed at the last one.
Kennedy seemed to take particular offense at Harris’ earlier questions implying that Barrett’s seat on the Supreme Court would threaten voting access for people of color.
In a monologue following his questions, Kennedy said, “We disagree. [Harris] thinks America is systemically racist, I don’t…. I think we’re a country that has some racists in it…. [Harris] suggested that some states are wicked and others are pristine (when it comes to racist policies).”
He then said that California has a “deep history of discrimination” against Asian-Americans and Hispanics and added that Harris’ own record as a former prosecutor in the state had its own racial disparities.
Black Californians represent less than 6 percent of California’s population, but make up 29 percent of its prison inmates, according to the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
While Harris didn’t craft the laws that have disproportionately incarcerated Black Californians—and she actually worked as state attorney general to implement implicit-bias training for law enforcement and has, as a senator, co-sponsored police reform legislation following the May 25 murder of black Minneapolis man George Floyd by a white police officer—her racial record as a prosecutor is under greater scrutiny now that she’s running for vice president.
Last year, Kennedy said he didn’t believe Republican President Donald Trump had made a racist statement when Trump said that four congresswomen of non-white ethnicities should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.”
Newsweek contacted Kennedy’s office for comment.