Amy Coney Barrett’s Nomination to the Supreme Court: What you need to know

Image of Amy Coney Barrett's nomination at the White House by President Donald Trump

President Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the late Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s vacancy has come at a critical time, just weeks before the General Election. The Watchdog spoke to Dr. Christina Sciabarra of the Bellevue College Political Science Department to gain insight into what Justice Ginsburg’s replacement could mean for the Supreme Court. 

Amy Coney Barrett is a former law clerk to the late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, and she was also one of President Trump’s nominees for the Supreme Court in 2018. Judge Barrett graduated from Notre Dame Law School, and since 2017, has been the only woman to hold an Indiana seat on the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. “She was confirmed as part of a large push to fill vacant seats with conservative judges over the last five years,” stated Dr. Sciabarra. “She clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia, who was known for his “originalism” philosophy and the idea that “lawyers aren’t policymakers” and that they should apply the law as it was originally written in the Constitution. He had a major impact on the court and her nomination would be a way to bring that philosophy back.”

The intersection of Judge Barrett’s faith and the law is a point of concern for many of her opponents. The Separation of Church and State, expressed in the first amendment of the Constitution, establishes the importance of freedom of religion and has been foundational to countless rulings of the Supreme Court. While the debate remains ongoing as to the extent of separation, the Supreme Court has made landmark decisions in the cases of Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges, which have legalized abortion and the right for same-sex couples to marry in all 50 states. Without the separation of Church and State, the impact of a religious partiality could have prohibited these rights from ever being granted to Americans. However, President Trump’s vocalized opposition against such landmark cases, and his judicial nominations, could pose a threat to retaining these liberties. “While it is likely that liberal media outlets have overstated her conservative nature when it comes to rulings, her alignment with Scalia’s views regarding interpreting the Constitution gives a good idea of what her votes are likely to be which would be a strict reading of the Constitution and a reversal of previous rulings, ” Dr. Sciabarra told the Watchdog. “Trump has appointed two of the nine justices and should this confirmation go through, he would have appointed one-third of the court and the appointments are for life.” 

Filling Ginsburg’s seat with a conservative judge like Barrett could shift the court from its tenuous 5-4 conservative majority to a solid 6-3 conservative majority. While in the past Donald Trump has replaced conservative justices with conservative justices, this nomination is particularly important because Trump has the opportunity to change the balance of the court. Barrett’s decisions on the court will not only affect cases for women and the LBGTQ+ community, but also the future of Dreamers and healthcare privileges. President Trump is a staunch opponent of both Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Obamacare. Under a predominantly conservative bloc, both could be threatened.

President Trump’s immediate appointment of Judge Barrett also raises concerns about appointing judges during an election and at the end of a presidential term. Dr. Sciabarra compared the 2016 judicial appointment process under President Obama to President Trump’s current nomination. “This nomination is particularly controversial because Obama nominated Merrick Garland in March of 2016 and Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell refused to let the confirmation process go forward stating that the next president should pick the next justice. Now, here we are less than a month from an election and Trump has nominated Barrett and Senate Majority leader McConnell has said that the confirmation process will go forward and be completed before the election.”

Concerned about the implications of a heavily conservative court, some Democrats have proposed appointing more judges to the Supreme Court. Although the Supreme Court has had nine justices since 1869, nowhere in the constitution does it define how many justices the court should have. This leaves the door open for Democrats to increase the number of justices to change its ideological balance.

Judge Barrett’s Senate confirmation hearings are set to take place on Oct.12th.