This past Saturday, President Trump announced his Supreme Court nominee to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg after her death last week. By replacing her with a conservative favorite, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Trump potentially secures a 6-3 conservative majority on the Court—a change that could dramatically alter healthcare, abortion laws and gun rights. Trump also appeals to female voters with this pick, an audience that so far favors Biden for the upcoming election with historic polling numbers, according to CNN.
As Trump pointed out in the White House Rose Garden announcement, Judge Barrett would be the first mother of school-aged children to take a Supreme Court position, a narrative many conservatives argue would be difficult for Democrats to vilify. Judge Barrett has seven children, including two adopted children from Haiti and one child with Down syndrome. Barrett is a devout Catholic and currently a part-time professor at Notre Dame Law School, where she was voted best professor three times in her 15-year teaching career. She is known for her seemingly impossible balance of teaching law school in South Bend, Indiana, sitting on an appeals court in Chicago, which she commutes to after her 4 a.m gym session and attending to her children, according to NPR.
Unlike in the case of Justice Kavanaugh’s nomination, few people dispute Barrett’s intellect and hard work; her positions and scholarly criticism are what makes her nomination a win for conservatives and frustrating for the left. Largely inspired by the late Justice Scalia, Barrett’s philosophy is to interpret laws with rigid loyalty to the Constitution. According to CNN, she believes, like Scalia, that “a judge must apply the law as written… Judges are not policymakers and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they might hold.” Additionally, Barrett has established her positions as anti-expansion of legal protections for LGBTQ+ individuals, anti-abortion and anti-Affordable Care Act.
Specifically, Barrett has not announced how she would rule on marriage equality, but she has published extensive writing presenting her view that homosexuality is immoral. In the year of the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of legalizing gay marriage, she signed a “Letter to Synod Fathers from Catholic Women,” which outlines a pledge to “family values” and the Church’s mission (read this letter here). Barrett has also spoken out against abortion, declaring in a 2013 speech on Roe v. Wade that life begins at conception. She also signed a statement in 2012 that President Obama’s policies requiring employee health plans to cover contraception are a “grave violation of religious freedom and cannot stand,” according to Vox. However, in her Jacksonville lecture in 2016, she spoke about how she expects Roe v. Wade to be “hollowed out,” not reversed. Barret said, “I don’t think abortion or the right to abortion would change. I think some of the restrictions would change… The question is how much freedom the court is willing to let states have in regulating abortion.”
Luckily for apprehensive liberals, Barrett seems committed to leaving her Catholicism and personal opinions at the Supreme Court steps. In her confirmation hearing to be a 7th Circuit Appeals Court judge, she declared, “It’s never appropriate for a judge to impose that judge’s personal convictions, whether they derive from faith or anywhere else on the law,” and “I totally reject and I have rejected throughout my entire career the proposition that, as you say, the end justifies the means or that a judge should decide cases based on a desire to reach a certain outcome.” Moreover, her close identification with Scalia, who, according to NPR, called himself a “faint-hearted originalist” because of his tendency to uphold precedent even when he thought it conflicted with the Founding Fathers, could mean that she may do little to overturn past decisions.
Barrett’s loyalty to the Constitution could easily expand Second Amendment gun ownership rights and undercut Obamacare. In fact, Barrett has criticized both Supreme Court decisions upholding key parts of Obamacare, claiming that the dissenters’ argument was stronger. Presidential candidate Joe Biden argues against her stance on Obamacare, saying that “President Trump has been trying to throw out the Affordable Care Act for four years. Republicans have been trying to end it for a decade. Twice, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law as constitutional,” and Barrett, he said, “has a written track record of disagreeing with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision upholding the Affordable Care Act. She critiqued Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion upholding the law in 2012.”
Barrett also has adopted an even broader view of the Second Amendment than Scalia, arguing that sometimes felons should be allowed guns, although their right to vote should remain suspended. In a Wisconsin 2018 ruling, she wrote that “Neither Wisconsin nor the United States has introduced data sufficient to show that disarming all nonviolent felons substantially advances its interest in keeping the public safe.” According to Law.com, it’s possible that Barrett’s nomination will break the Supreme Court’s hesitation to engage on Second Amendment issues.
It’s important to note that while Barrett’s confirmation is virtually guaranteed due to a Republican majority in the Senate and their control of its Judiciary Committee, Democrats will still try to attack President Trump and the Senate’s decision to move forward with any nomination at all. This is not surprising in light of the arguments by Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell and Barrett herself to wait on a Supreme Court nomination in 2016 after Justice Scalia’s death. However, according to the New York Times and Stephen Wermiel, a constitutional law professor at American University in Washington, D.C., Democrats are “largely helpless in delaying the vote.” This is likely a win for conservatives. With the possible shift of key issues, such as abortion, to the states, it is more important than ever that voters educate themselves on the leanings of their local and state officials to make sure that their voices are heard come November.