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U.S. Supreme Court nominee Barrett faces Senate test

WASHINGTON, Oct 12 (Reuters) - U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s Senate confirmation kicks off in earnest on Monday as Republicans seek to place her on the bench ahead of the presidential election next month in the face of blanket Democratic opposition.

A four-day Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for the conservative appellate court judge, picked by President Donald Trump, will begin with members and Barrett herself making opening statements.

The hearing is a key step before a final full Senate vote by the end of October on her nomination for a lifetime job on the court.

Barrett is expected to tell senators that as a judge she seeks to “reach the result required by the law, whatever my own preferences might be,” according to a copy of her prepared remarks released on Sunday.

Barrett, 48, said in the statement that it will be an “honor of a lifetime” to serve alongside the current eight justices.

Her confirmation to replace the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would create a 6-3 conservative majority on the court that could lead to rulings rolling back abortion rights, expanding religious and gun rights, and upholding Republican-backed voting restrictions, among other issues.

Republicans have a 53-47 Senate majority so Barrett’s confirmation seems almost certain.

Democrats have focused their criticism so far on Barrett’s potentially vital role in a case pending before the Supreme Court in which Trump and Republican-led states are seeking to invalidate the Affordable Care Act healthcare law, often called Obamacare.

One key provision bars insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

Democrats have called on Barrett to recuse herself from the case, saying she would have a conflict of interest because Trump has called for the law to be struck down.

They have also demanded that she step aside from any cases involving the presidential election because Trump has said the court is likely to have to settle cases over electoral disputes.

Trump, who is running for re-election against Democrat Joe Biden, has indicated he would expect the court to rule in his favor if Barrett is confirmed.

Under existing rules, individual justices have the final say on whether they should recuse.

Barrett, a devout Catholic who has expressed opposition to abortion, is expected to face Democratic questioning on that issue too. Christian conservative activists long have hoped for the court to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

The Senate’s Republican leaders rejected Democratic pleas to delay the hearing after two Republican Judiciary Committee members and Trump himself tested positive for the coronavirus in the days following the Sept. 26 White House event at which the president announced Barrett as the nominee.

Barrett will face questions from senators on Tuesday and Wednesday in lengthy all-day sessions. The hearing is due to conclude on Thursday with outside witnesses testifying about her qualifications.

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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