On Sept. 26, President Donald Trump officially nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Conservatives praise her for her traditional values and notable academic history, while liberals warn against such a drastic shift in the balance of the court. Needless to say, Barrett's right-leaning preferences make her a polarizing figure.
Barrett has served on the 7th District Court of Appeals since Trump appointed her in 2017, and has since consistently shown conservative leanings in her decisions. She practiced both appellate and trial law in Washington, D.C. before teaching law at Notre Dame for 15 years. With only three years of experience as a judge, the New York Times reports she would be the “sitting justice with the least courtroom experience” if elected, as well as the youngest at age 48.
After graduating from Notre Dame’s law school, Barrett clerked for the late Judge Antonin Scalia. As a fellow originalist, someone who believes the constitution should be interpreted in its original context, Scalia’s influence is evident when examining Barrett’s past cases.
“I tend to agree with those who say that a justice’s duty is to the Constitution and that it is thus more legitimate for her to enforce her best understanding of the Constitution rather than a precedent she thinks clearly in conflict with it,” Barrett said, as cited in an article by the Washington Post.
This lack of adherence to precedent means Barrett could potentially advocate for overturning landmark civil rights cases, such as Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage, and Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion.
Barrett’s devout Catholicism and firm stance against abortion have made her a favorite of the religious right. As quoted in the New York Times, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List, believes that Barrett’s appointment will mean progress for pro-life advocates.
“She is the perfect combination of brilliant jurist and a woman who brings the argument to the court that is potentially the contrary to the views of the sitting women justices,” Dannenfelser said.
This issue, as well as Barrett’s vocal opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), has made those with nonconservative ideas come out in droves against her appointment. She would be a sixth conservative voice on the court if elected and, according to the New York Times, University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck believes that this uneven balance of power on the court would make it all too easy for conservative policies to be pushed through.
"When it comes to big picture cases, running the spectrum from abortion to religion to campaign finance to everything, there is no longer going to be ... any concern about a squishy median when you have six solid conservatives from which to find five" to form a majority, Vladeck said.
The issue of repealing the ACA is especially prevalent at this moment in time. If repealed, millions could lose health insurance coverage in the middle of Covid-19, which has already resulted in over 206,000 deaths as of Sept. 30, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
In the coming weeks, the Republican-controlled senate will have two options: they can either push through Barrett’s confirmation hearings, as favored by Trump and many prominent Republicans, or honor late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dying wish to wait until after the presidential election to make the decision, following the precedent their own party set in 2016 when Senate majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to hold a confirmation hearing for President Obama’s nominee.