Today, the hypocrisy of the GOP is on full display. Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett was sworn into the Supreme Court by Chief Justice John C. Roberts the morning of Tuesday, October 27, just eight days before the 2020 Presidential Election. If you feel like our democracy is on the rocks, you’re not alone.
Confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett
The evening of Monday, October 28, 2020, the Senate voted to confirm AJ Amy Coney Barrett in a 52-48 majority – with unanimous opposition by the Democratic party. According to the New York Times, this marks the first time in 151 years that not a single member of the minority party voted in favor of a Supreme Court nominee. Regardless of whether Trump is voted out in this upcoming election, he’ll have appointed three supreme court justices during his time in office, a move that will cement his legacy and that of the Republican party for years to come – one whose long-lasting implications for the American people cannot be fully foreseen.
Not only did the Republican party, namely Senator Mitch McConnell, disregard the dying words of late Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – she had asked for there to not be a newly appointed Justice until after the American people spoke their voice in the election – but they pushed this nomination through as quickly as possible, ignoring the logic they had used to block the nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016, and the precedent that logic had set. So where the nomination of Merrick Garland nine months before the 2016 election was too close to be fair to the American people, the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett eight days before the 2020 election is completely fair. Right?
Yeah, didn’t think so. The political agenda of the Republican party has never been so apparent. To the GOP, the Supreme Court is just another pawn in their game of political chess, upon which the lives of American people are staked.
Plus, Trump held a questionable event post the senate vote yesterday evening, featuring a photo-op with Amy Coney Barrett in front of crowds in Washington. This move has faced criticism given that a month earlier, Trump staged an event for the announcement of Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination which helped the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and caused several attendees to fall ill. Last night’s event abided by the traditional precautions of mask-wearing and distancing, but it continues to show Trump’s visible lack of concern about the virus spreading across our country, especially as this weekend the US saw the highest increase in Covid-19 infections in one day since March.
What you need to know about Justice Barrett
Former clerk and mentee of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett is seen by many as his replacement on the bench and a symbol of the conservative party. As a Catholic, she holds her religious views as a large and important part of her identity, and has in the past signed onto ads criticizing Roe v. Wade and may rule in favor of restricting LGBTQ+ rights and the rights of same-sex couples in the future.
She is also an originalist. If you’re not familiar with the term, an originalist is someone who believes that the words of the Constitution should be looked to and upheld when making court rulings. According to the Atlantic, “Anything else is ‘judicial lawmaking.’” This judicial philosophy, one famously abided by Justice Scalia, is dangerous and outdated. The constitution was not made to be followed exactly to the letter. As The Atlantic explains, Thomas Jefferson himself was quoted in expressing that the constitution should serve as a framework allowing for the growth and modernization of our democracy, not something that should never be amended or altered. And as an opinion piece in the New York Times argued, “Imagine going to your doctor and being told you can’t have this antibiotic or that treatment because it wasn’t mentioned in the medical texts in 1787.”
And although Justice Barrett has the proper qualifications to hold a position on the Supreme Court, she has less experience in the courts than nominees from past years, and according to a column from The Guardian, “The fact that Barrett is ‘qualified’ does not automatically entitle her to a Supreme Court seat – and her politics are enough to justify trying to keep her off it.” She is likely more right-leaning than most Americans, as the article implies, and this makes her a solidification to an already dangerous conservative ‘majority’ in the highest court of the US.
That said, Justice Barrett has remained silent about her views in the days leading up to her confirmation, and has vowed to be independent of party affiliation. According to CNN, Barrett announced today, “The oath that I have solemnly taken tonight means at its core that I will do my job without any fear or favor and that I will do so independently of both the political branches and of my own preferences.”
Despite this admission, only with time will we see how she truly decides to uphold her career as a Supreme Court Justice, and whether she follows in the footsteps of Justice Antonin Scalia, ruling on the conservative side for almost every case, or paves her own path. We can only hope that she keeps her own religious and political views separate from what’s best for the American people.
Implications for the American public
Whether this comes as good news or not, we may not have long to wait to see how Justice Barrett will act in her new role. With a 6-3 majority for the conservative party, classic partisan issues like the Affordable Care Act, immigrant rights, abortion rights, LGBTQ+ rights and the right of the American public to see Trump’s tax returns could all be under scrutiny in the coming months. Plus, the effects of this confirmation could directly impact the results of the upcoming election, as cases for extension of mail-in ballot deadlines in battleground states are heading to the Supreme Court this week. Such an extension was already denied for Wisconsin last night in a 5-3 majority, and it looks like there may be similar rulings to come.
Is there any hope for the Supreme Court’s future?
The disillusionment so many of us feel may make for a depressing spiral, but our court may not be ruined for an entire generation. The first step to regaining the Supreme Court’s value is at the polls. If the Democratic party sweeps this election across the board, there is the potential for reform to ensure that there is not such a conservative leaning in the future. Vice President and Presidential Nominee Joe Biden has promised to look into reform of the American Court system, in order to restore the values that upholding the law should possess. (Newsflash, it’s not about political agenda. It’s about what’s best for the American people.)
And in lieu of that, there’s court-packing, a theory which has gained prominence among the American public of late, and is backed by the beloved Representative AOC. Court-packing, or court expansion, is the process of adding more justices to the Supreme Court in order to balance out a solid majority, like the 6-3 majority which exists as of today. Although Biden has in recent years opposed this idea, he has not expressed his views on the subject in recent months, so it’s possible that such an act may become part of his political agenda, especially after the events of this week.
Either way, today has shown that the American democracy has a steep climb to once again being representative of its people, so make sure that you vote if you haven’t already, because the future of our democracy – and our lives – literally depends on it.