Protesters on both sides painted a bleak and desperate picture of what would happen if the other side got its way.
Barrett’s supporters said waiting to appoint a justice until after the presidential election would set a precedent and prevent Trump from doing the job he was elected to do. Her opponents rattled off rights they said would be in danger should Barrett be confirmed: LGBTQ rights, reproductive rights, and access to health care and the ballot box.
“The rights of my family is on the chopping block,” said Ana Maria Archila, co-director of the Center for Popular Democracy. “This is personal. So do not come here telling me about Trump’s rights.”
For hours, competing chants filled the cold, wet air outside government buildings.
“Let the people decide,” anti-Barrett demonstrators chanted.
“They already did!” shouted a woman carrying a “Confirm Amy” poster. “In 2016!”
Tense debates broke out among some, as others resorted to shouting.
“Put on a mask!” yelled a woman wearing a face covering bearing the words “We dissent.”
“Do you even have a permit?” countered a demonstrator waving a pink “Women for Amy” sign.
For blocks, police tried in vain to keep the groups separated.
Women in the red robes and white hoods of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian depiction of handmaidens stood solemnly in front of a line of young women jumping up and down in black robes and white wigs, chanting “We have the votes!”
Protesters in plastic coveralls demanded that GOP lawmakers such as Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Mike Lee (Utah), who announced less than two weeks ago that he had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, submit to a virus test before the hearings could proceed.
“Mom, why are we still wearing this?” asked Charlie, 8, whose small arms were enveloped by the oversized sleeves of the plastic coveralls.
“Well, now we’re wearing it because it’s warm and dry, but earlier we were wearing it because of political theater,” said her mother, Rebecca Wood, as she held a poster with baby photos of Charlie — born prematurely at 26 weeks — and the words “Her birth is a preexisting condition. The ACA gave her a chance.”
“What’s that?” asked Charlie.
“It’s when you dress up in a costume to help make your voice heard,” Wood said.
Unlike in past years, the public is not allowed to watch these hearings in person because of the pandemic. Demonstrators instead took their dissent to the entrances of Senate office buildings and the marble steps of the Supreme Court.
The 21 people arrested outside the Dirksen Senate Office Building about 8:35 a.m. were charged with obstructing the entryway. One person also was charged with unlawful conduct, Capitol Police spokeswoman Eva Malecki said.
As police led them away, Barrett supporters cheered and chanted “Law and order!” from behind a police line.
Tywana Hampton, 61, drove from Richmond early Monday to attend the pro-Barrett rally. She said it was upsetting to hear opposing protesters demand that “the people” have a say in who will fill the seat left vacant by the Sept. 18 death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“It’s like our voice doesn’t matter,” said Hampton, a Trump supporter. “We made our voice heard in 2016. That’s what that election was.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold four days of confirmation hearings for Barrett. The hearings began 22 days before the election, with Senate Republicans intent on installing the conservative judge on the court.
Wood and her daughter have testified on behalf of the Affordable Care Act before Congress, marched in more than 100 protests and driven countless hours from their home in Boston to the nation’s capital.
At the rally Monday in front of the Supreme Court, behind yellow caution tape stamped with the words “reclaim the court,” Wood told the crowd, “I’m sick of it.”
“Why do I continue to show up? For Charlie,” she said. “Charlie’s recovery from her premature birth is remarkable. Despite her incredible growth and development, Charlie’s world looks grim. Because her birth is a preexisting condition, her access to health care is regularly under attack.”
As the rain continued to fall, a new chant rose in the crowd.
“Whose court?” a small group began to chant.
“Our court!” answered voices from both sides that were, for a brief and fleeting moment, together.