Barrett on the Bench

New Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s controversial appointment and opinions

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Nicole Perry

With the 2020 election season looming, there were high expectations for changes in the government. But one that was less expected was the need to fill the seat of recently deceased Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her death led to the third open seat on the Supreme Court since Donald Trump had been elected president in 2016. On October 26, 2020, just over a week before the election, the Senate confirmed Amy Coney Barrett to the bench, giving conservatives a 6-3 majority in the Supreme Court. It was only one short month between her nomination to her confirmation, making it one of the fastest appointments ever. Her appointment to the Supreme Court was made just in time for several important decisions. At 48 years old, she will likely be on the Supreme Court for decades to come, influencing and deciding any number of landmark cases.

Barrett’s appointment was far from popular. Her appointment has been highly partisan and polarized. Democrats have been vocal about the hypocrisy of the situation. When Barack Obama sought to fill Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat in 2016, Mitch McConnell denied a vote, making it impossible for Obama to pass anyone. He did this using the claim that Obama’s term was almost up at the time and in 2016 McConnell stated that “The American people are perfectly capable of having their say on this issue, so let’s give them a voice. Let’s let the American people decide. The Senate will appropriately revisit the matter when it considers the qualifications of the nominee the next president nominates, whoever that might be.” But when Justice Ginsburg passed away before the election, McConnell allowed a vote on Barrett, leading to her eventual appointment. While Ginsburg died less than two months before the election, Scalia died almost nine months before the 2016 election. The double-standards in the situation are glaring. Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment was also a direct violation of Ginsburg’s wish for her seat to be filled after the election, announced to her granddaughter shortly before her death.

“It was very, very irritating that they let Trump nominate a Supreme Court justice before the election,” Skylar Moren (9) said. “Especially considering they wouldn’t let Obama do the same nine months before.”

Alternatively, most Republicans have made very few comments about the subject. As a conservative judge, the majority of congressional Republicans approve of the decision to appoint her to the court as it gives them a substantial majority. There were however a few outliers who wanted to wait until after the election to appoint a new justice. Susan Collins, for instance, a senator from Maine, was the only Republican senator who voted against Barrett’s appointment. While several have made the claim that it was a political play, it doesn’t change the fact that, had a few more Republicans done the same, Barrett might not have been approved.

Much to the frustrations of her Democratic opposition, Barrett’s confirmation hearings were less than revealing. Her apparent strategy for getting through them was circumventing the majority of the questions asked of her. There were very few instances of her giving a blunt opinion on the questions she was asked. One of the very few things that Barrett revealed in the hearings was her views on Originalism. Originalism is a view that some in the legal field hold, and it is essentially meaning that they interpret the Constitution as it was originally written. It’s a debated subject, some saying that it’s discriminatory as the framers of the constitution did not include women or people of color in their fight for equality. Others argue that while Originalism holds true to the original interpretation, it excludes discriminatory views from the time period. In her hearing, Barrett made it clear that she was a strong supporter of Originalism, much like the deceased supreme court justice Antonin Scalia, a previous mentor of Barrett’s. While Originalism cannot be blatantly interpreted as inherently good or bad, nor belonging to one political party or the other, it would doubtlessly affect the way that Barrett makes decisions in the future.

An un-ending controversy that consumes the country, is the morality and legality of abortions. Barrett’s views on the subject have tended to line up with conservative views and Trump has even stated that he wanted to appoint a justice who would overturn Roe v. Wade. She’s made several rulings against abortion access in the past, and it’s likely that she will continue ruling this way as she proceeds in her legal career. Many people who oppose her nomination are concerned with her strong connection to religion, worrying that religious concerns with things like gay marriage and abortions will cloud her judgment. While she has stated that her religion will not impact any decision she makes on the court, outside influence is often outside of human control. If Barrett and other conservative justices on the court make the decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, several states have already suggested that they would pass abortion bans, some without provisions for rape and incest. Additionally, abortion directly connects to access to contraceptives. In her hearings, she specifically said that she had no intention of banning birth control.  A contraceptive ban would likely be considered highly radical by many and it is possible to remove accessibility to contraceptives without criminalizing it. Concerns on her abortion policies also correlate to concerns about the defunding of Planned Parenthood, an organization that is typically tied to abortion services but that extends to other areas of health. 

“She would contribute to the defunding of Planned Parenthood, which was being talked about before,” Moren said when asked how Barrett’s appointment might affect her. “And I know that’s a way for young people, and just women in general, to get healthcare they need. So I wouldn’t have access and my friends wouldn’t have access to that.”

And her opinions on any number of other controversial subjects have received both backlash and support. There are concerns about her views on gay marriage, another issue where her religion comes into play. With several lawsuits from the presidential election underway, the country is also watching to see how she will address the subject of mail-in-ballots and whether or not she will support Biden, the official winner, or Trump, the man who appointed her and who is refusing to concede on the basis of the fraudulency of mail-in-voting. Barrett has made the claim that she would not feel obligated to vote in Trump’s favor, but many are skeptical.

“I know she said she would not feel obligated to rule in his favor, but I can’t help but doubt that,” Moren said. “He was the one that nominated her in the first place and a lot of things he says are favoring her.”

But whether her appointment is popular or not and whether her views are supported or not, Amy Coney Barrett has been confirmed and now fills the ninth seat on the Supreme Court. As she continues in her career, her actions and decisions are likely to remain under heavy media scrutiny for a long period of time. It remains to be seen if she will truly uphold her promises of objectivity, but either way, with a long road ahead of her, she will no doubt be a prominent and influential figure for years to come.