WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., recalled her husband's and her father's battles with COVID-19 on Monday as she implored Americans to be vocal in their opposition to the "sham" confirmation hearings of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

"It's personal," Klobuchar said in a widely seen statement on the opening day of the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearings on Barrett, President Donald Trump's pick to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

In a voice sometimes shaking with emotion, Klobuchar explained her opposition to Barrett by invoking the names of family members and fellow Minnesotans struck by the coronavirus, as well as of other state residents with pre-existing medical conditions.

Like other Democrats on the GOP-led panel, Klobuchar framed her opposition to Barrett in terms of her belief that the conservative judge would be a threat to women's rights and the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, including its protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

She recalled her husband's battle with COVID-19 early in the pandemic and her father's fight with the virus in an assisted living facility in Minnesota.

While calling the hearing a "sham," Klobuchar acknowledged that Democrats can do little to stop the Republican majority from confirming Barrett ahead of the Nov. 3 election. The "secret weapon," she said, would be Americans "voting in droves" to show their disdain for a justice who could vote to kill the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the middle of a pandemic.

A GOP challenge to the health care law is expected before the high court in November.

Klobuchar, the only Minnesotan on the panel, also eulogized St. Paul school board Chairwoman Marny Xiong, the daughter of Hmong refugees, who died of COVID-19 in June at age 31. The senator displayed a picture of Xiong along with a photo of Maraya and Evelyn Wiltrout, 15-year-old twins from Cambridge, Minn. She said one of the twins has diabetes, a pre-existing condition that might exclude her from affordable health insurance without the current health care law.

Klobuchar criticized her Republican colleagues for forcing Barrett's nomination through the approval process in short order. Democrats have argued that the same committee refused to consider Obama nominee Merrick Garland for nine months in 2016, saying they had to wait for a new president to choose.

The American Bar Association has rated Barrett as "well qualified" for the high court. But the judge's legal positions have some worried that they run counter to legal safeguards currently in place.

As the Barrett hearings opened, two human rights legal groups filed a "Dear Senator" letter signed by 5,000 lawyers, including more than 100 from Minnesota, who oppose Barrett's appointment.

Klobuchar said Barrett's appointment could affect "where you go to school," "who you can marry" and "decisions you can make about your own body," a reference to abortion rights.

Klobuchar spoke fondly of Ginsburg, whose death from cancer left the court opening. Ginsburg, nicknamed the Notorious RBG, pioneered women's rights in the courts and in the law.

"To the women of America," Klobuchar said, "we have come so far and in the name of RBG we should not go backward."

She added that while the wheels of justice turn slowly, "injustice can move at lightning speed."

The former Democratic presidential hopeful never criticized Barrett's deep Catholic faith, which has been a focus of some of the judge's critics. Rather, she sought to portray her social conservatism as out of step with mainstream American values.

"This isn't Donald Trump's country," the senator said in a speech that was carried live to millions of television viewers. "It is yours. This shouldn't be Donald Trump's judge. It should be yours."

She also exhorted Barrett's opponents to get involved.

"Let me tell you a political secret: I doubt that it will be a brilliant cross-examination that's going to change this judge's trajectory this week," Klobuchar said. "No. It is you. It is you calling Republican senators and telling them enough is enough. Telling them it is personal."

Jim Spencer • 202-662-7432