Writer: Andrew Wyatt
October 26 2020 In a 52-48 floor vote, Judge Amy Coney Barrett has been confirmed by the Senate to serve on the nation’s highest court, likely tilting the ideological composition of the Court to the right. After being nominated by President Trump nearly a month ago shortly after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Barrett’s confirmation comes just a week before election day. Furthermore, the nomination represents how contentious controlling the judiciary has become to both Democrats and Republicans.
Barrett’s first encounter with law involved her observing her father serve as a lawyer for Shell Oil, and she has immersed herself in the discipline since. After graduating Rhodes College with a Bachelor’s in English, Barrett attended Notre Dame Law School and graduated top of her class. Fresh out of law school, she clerked for Judge Laurence H. Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and then later clerked for the late Justice Antonin Scalia. In 2002, she returned to Notre Dame to serve as a professor at the University’s Law School. Lastly, in 2017, she began serving as a judge on the Seventh Circuit of Appeals until being nominated to serve on the Supreme Court in September.
A devout Catholic and an apparent strong conservative voice, Barett has been a controversial pick for the Court. This is especially because Barrett is replacing the liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg who was a consistent and ardent defender of progressive ideals. Not to mention, Barrett’s confirmation further cements a conservative majority on the high Court from the previous but loose 5-4 majority conservatives controlled before the death of Justice Ginsburg. Though scholars argue it is hard to predict how a justice will vote before they begin to serve on the Court, having a collection of academic writing from when Barrett served as a law professor, many have identified the conservative leaning she seems to have. For instance, in 2012, after the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, the landmark healthcare law colloquially referred to as ObamaCare, Barrett criticized the Court’s decision as “push[ing] the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute.” Additionally, from her time serving on the Seventh Circuit of Appeals, Barrett has collected a compendium of opinions which indicate broad support for largely conservative ideals, such as gun rights and religion in daily life. Even more so, when serving as a professor at Notre Dame, Barrett was a member of an anti-abortion faculty group. She has also spoken publicly about her support for the judicial philosophy of originalism which, more often than not, leads to conservative opinions.
Nevertheless, Barrett’s confirmation is the first time in 151 years that a justice has been confirmed without a single vote from the minority party: all Senate Democrats and one Republican voting “Nay” on her final confirmation vote. Addressing the nomination at Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, Democrats scorned the abnormally quick nature of attempting to confirm Barrett right before election day. Democrats also derided Republicans as hypocrites for going through the confirmation process, when four years ago, Republicans refused to even consider former President Barack Obama’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Republicans claimed that Americans were in the middle of the primary process to select the next President and that the next President should choose the next justice to the Court. Though, Democrats had little power to slow down or halt Barrett’s confirmation in the first place because they currently only control 47 of the Senate’s 100 seats while Republicans control 53. On the other hand, Republicans claimed that they had the right to move forward with Barrett’s confirmation because they controlled the Presidency and the Senate, unlike in 2016 when the Presidency was controlled by a Democrat and the Senate was controlled by Republicans.
Nonetheless, Barrett’s confirmation has led to some progressive calls for Democrats to expand the amount of seats on the Supreme Court should former Vice-President Joe Biden be elected President and Democrats also take control of the Senate come November 3rd. However, Biden has not indicated his stance on packing the court with liberal justices to dilute the conservative majority. The Biden campaign has indicated that he will reveal his position on the issue after the election, this being a move by Biden to not alienate progressive voters should he be against the measure or seem too radical to Independents and swing voters should he support the issue.
Barrett begins her likely decades long tenure on the Supreme Court Tuesday, October 27 after having her swearing in ceremony at the White House Monday night.