Coney Barrett: Best Choice or Last Minute Shoe-In?

Brinkley Blum

October 18, 2020

The death of longtime Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg rocked the boat of a nation already sailing through stormy weather. However, further upsetting the tides was President Donald Trump’s announcement of his choice for justice to occupy her vacant seat.

On Monday, confirmation hearings began for the appointing of that choice to the court, Amy Coney Barrett, a judge native to Indiana who counts the late Antonin Scalia (another former Supreme Court Justice) as her mentor. As the hearings unfold, the torrential waves Trump’s nomination has made are cresting onto the shores of a nation unified in the land but split in consciousness.

Like Scalia before her, Barrett subscribes to originalism, a judicial philosophy that aims to reflect the United States Constitution’s original iteration. This methodology advocates for new laws to be created in place of revising the ones first drafted by the Founding Fathers. The most buzzed-about political issues of this century, however, are those that would’ve never crossed anyone’s mind three centuries before. How can originalism be translated from the text of the Constitution into the language of a modern age?

Barrett sought to answer that question during her Supreme Court hearings.
To little shock, one of the first subjects Barrett was confronted with was that of abortion rights. Her stance on the matter is perhaps more notorious than the judge she’d be replacing on the court, the “Notorious RBG” herself. As a judge in the Indiana court system, Barrett has dissented against laws that would make the process more accessible and less stigmatized, seeking to ban abortion based solely on a fetus’s sex or a disability they may have and require abortion providers to bury or cremate fetal remains. She has repeatedly denounced the watershed Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed safe and legal abortion. Among these remarks were calling it “infamous” and signing off on an ad that called for “an end to [its] barbaric legacy.”

Knowing full well that anything she said could and would be held against her, Barrett opted to say almost nothing, besides that Roe v. Wade was not a “super-precedent” in her eyes. Her definition of these are “cases that are so well-settled that no political actors and no people seriously push for their overruling.” Comparing the 1973 ruling to other legendary cases, such as Brown v. Board of Education (which outlawed racial segregation within public schools) and Marbury v. Madison (which gave courts the authority to deem laws unconstitutional), she stated that Roe was “not a case that everyone has accepted.” She did not admit if she was one of those who didn’t approve of the law.

There were no hot-button Barrett’s challengers didn’t press, and her thoughts regarding these issues disappeared into flames. When 2015’s Obergefell v. Hodges (the Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage) was brought up, specifically that Barrett had used the term “sexual preference” to describe the LGBTQ+ community, she responded with little more than an apology for her use of the offensive term. Her reasoning for this was that she had “no mission and no agenda. Judges don’t have campaign promises.” She continued to employ that logic when asked how she would address systemic racism that’s run rampant in the United States. Barrett, who has two Black children adopted from Haiti, had this to say: “I think it is an entirely uncontroversial and obvious statement… that racism persists in our country. As to putting my finger on the nature of the problem, whether as you say it’s just outright or systemic racism, or how to tackle the issue of making it better, those things are policy questions.” This implied that the army battling to combat racism would be comprised of lawmakers, with little involvement from the justices.

Throughout the remainder of the hearings, Barrett maintained her originalist views as healthcare and election policy came under scrutiny. The philosophy and her application of it have further sent the country into a squall, debating as to whether the original Constitution still provides an adequate foundation for America to be built on. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s vote on Barrett’s confirmation, slated for October 22nd, could provide an answer to that query.