In the weeks following the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the debate surrounding Trump’s Supreme Court nominee—and whether he should even make a nomination—has been volatile. This past week, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee conducted its hearing regarding Trump’s SCOTUS pick, Amy Coney Barrett. After four days of vague hearings, the nation is holding its breath while the election looms nearer. The questions on everyone’s mind? Who is Amy Coney Barrett, and more importantly, how would her appointment to the Supreme Court impact the United States?
The Impact of Religion
ACB’s religious values and involvement in non-secular politics have been scrutinized since the news of her nomination broke. Barrett is a member of the People of Praise group, and “oversees the group’s schools in three states.” This matters because People of Praise, a “charismatic Christian community,” is reported to “treat women as subservient to men.”
Barrett’s history as a Professor at Notre Dame is also notable, namely because of one comment she made to graduate students of the university. In 2006, Barrett noted that a legal career can be viewed “as but a means to an end…and that end is building the Kingdom of God.” This endorsement of desecularization, of course, goes directly against the ideals of American government. The comment resurfaced and caught fire on Twitter, leading Americans to question the influence of Barrett’s religion on her career and how her desire for a “Kingdom of God” could impact her rulings.
Abortion, Health Care, and Right-Leaning Values
Barrett’s religious views lend themselves nicely to the topics that have caused the most stir around her nomination: abortion and health care. Barrett is an undeniably conservative-leaning choice, inevitably prompting a heated discussion regarding legal and safe abortions under Roe v. Wade and the standing of the Affordable Care Act.
During the hearings, Barrett was asked if she thinks Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided. She answered, “I can’t pre-commit or say, ‘Yes, I’m going in with some agenda,’ because I’m not. I don’t have any agenda.” While her refusal to answer the question can be telling enough for some, ACB’s career also lends itself to a clear pattern against the practice of abortion. In 2013, the judge delivered talks to anti-abortion student groups, a fact which she failed to disclose before her SCOTUS hearings. Additionally, she added her name to a newspaper ad condemning Roe v. Wade’s “barbaric legacy” in 2006. Because Barrett didn’t explicitly confirm or deny her view on abortion during the hearings, it’s difficult to say how she would rule on the law if presented the chance, and whether she would let her personal values influence her decision.
There’s been an uproar of concern regarding the future of the Affordable Care Act, should ACB be appointed to the court. In 2017, following Chief Justice John Roberts’ decision to preserve the ACA, Barrett commented that he “pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute.” During her hearings, however, she said she is “not hostile to the ACA.” Her conflicting statements and unclear sentiment toward the ACA are particularly concerning, considering the act is to be argued in the Supreme Court mere days before the election. Barrett is expected to be appointed by that point, making her stance particularly vital to the Americans who rely on Obamacare—during a pandemic, no less.
On Being An Originalist
Throughout her hearings, Barrett was extremely tight-lipped about her intentions, should she be nominated to the Court. Her goal was to prove her objectionality and affirm her place as a judge to “apply the law as written.” One questionable part of the hearing was when Barrett defined herself as an originalist: “I interpret [the Constitution] as text and I understand it to have the meaning that it had at the time people ratified it. So that meaning doesn’t change over time. And it’s not up to me to update it or infuse my own policy views into it.” It’s a belief that follows in the footsteps of Barrett’s mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
On the surface, ACB’s stance as an originalist seems about as objective as it gets. The point of the Supreme Court is to uphold the Constitution and rule on modern laws while using it as a guide. But per Barrett’s exact interpretation of originalism, the law leaves no room for modern viewpoints. Plus, originalism assumes that every case presented to SCOTUS is one that can or cannot be affirmed and ruled on by the Constitution. The unspoken meaning of originalism is that every case presented to the court in 2020 can be perfectly decided on using the ideas of 1787. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, in comparison, believed the Constitution should be interpreted elastically; she once said “our Constitution…like our society…can evolve.”
What Comes Next?
Now that her Judiciary Committee hearings have ended, it’s in the hands of the Committee as to whether or not Barrett will be appointed to the Supreme Court. The Committee is set to vote on October 22nd, opening the vote up to the rest of the Senate shortly thereafter. It’s expected that, based on the GOP majority of both the Committee and the Senate, Barrett will be confirmed to the nation’s highest court before Election Day. Barrett, then, will be sworn in as the fifth woman to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States in its 231-year history.
As far as what comes next for America, it depends on what side of the aisle you’re on. The Supreme Court will stand with a 6-3 GOP majority, much to the dismay of Democratic voters and politicians. Time will only tell what this majority means for the future of the contentious cases that are to pass through the Supreme Court in the upcoming session, but one thing is for certain: the inherent polarization of America’s most powerful court is evidence of the gaps in our democracy.
By Sophia Moore