Translation: Tom Atkins
Following the death of democrat Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, President Trump nominated the conservative judge Amy Coney Barret to the Supreme Court of the United States. Her nomination was confirmed by senate on October 26th, 2020, ahead of the November 3rd presidential election.
48-year-old Barret is a devout Catholic and mother of seven from the state of Indiana. Her 2020 Supreme Court appointment followed her 2017 appointment to the United States Court of Appeals, before which she was a law professor at an Indiana university.
Barrett is considered to be a brilliant jurist and is well known for her conservative stances, including a fierce opposition to abortion. Barrett is very popular in conservative circle, such as the conservative activist group the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group that was very actively involved in her Supreme Court appointment.
Considering her young age, Barrett might serve as Supreme Court Justice for decades to come,perhaps until the 2060s. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as a comparison, was 60 when she was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Clinton. She served for 27 years until her death at the age of 87.
Appointing a Justice on an Election Year: The Senate Breaks its own Precedent for Trump
US Supreme Court justices, as well as courts of appeals and district courts judges, are political appointments of the President, and require approval by the Senate. Barrett was Trump’s third conservative appointment for the Supreme Court, and was quickly and easily approved by the Senate.
This might be the place to bring up 2016, when Justice Antonin Scalia passed away during Barack Obama’s last year in office. Obama’s attempt to appoint a replacement was blocked by Mitch Mcconnell, Senate republican leader, on the grounds of objecting to any Supreme Court appointment during an election year.
Trump’s Senate-backed last-minute appointment of a conservative justice goes against that precedent, set by the Senate itself. The fact that this appointment would completely disturb the balance of Supreme Court justices (which now comprises three liberal and six conservative justices) is likely to have implication both in and out of the Supreme Court itself.
With Barrett’s appointment, a conservative-majority Supreme Court is very likely to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, stating that the any anti-abortion law is unconstitutional, as it negate pregnant women’s right for privacy. For years, this decision has been a point of controversy between conservatives and liberals.
A conservative- (and anti-regulation) majority court, might also jeopardize the Affordable Care Act, which is now in discussion.
How Did Barrett’s Appointment Affect the Election?
The Republican party hoped that Barrett’s nomination and Senate confirmation would sideline the Covid pandemic and the Trump administration’s mishandling of it, as well as strengthen the party and energize the base in the presidential race’s home stretch.
On the other hand, the fast-tracked appointment might have brought out democrat voters who would have otherwise stayed home.
An interesting example of this possible backlash is South Carolina, home of senator Lindsey Graham, one of the leading voices against appointing a new justice, back in 2016. At the time, Graham publicly announced he would not agree to such an appointment in the last days of the Trump administration, saying: “I want you to use my words against me.” But at the moment of truth, guess what – he had no qualms backtracking on his promise and joining Mcconnell’s efforts to organize a quick Senate hearing and approve Barrett even before the November election.
In a September poll, Graham’s democrat opponent gained a significant boost in popularity. Graham’s dishonest conduct may have had something to do with it: the rules of fair play still play a significant role in American culture, and South Carolina voters adhere to them.
The Feminist Perspective: How Would a Conservative Court Influence American Women?
During Obama’s time in office, Bader Ginsburg had been asked several times to resign, citing age and health reasons. This would have allowed the president to appoint a liberal justice to take her place. She refused. Commentators believed that she was convinced Hillary Clinton would be elected, allowing a female president to appoint her replacement.
This didn’t happen, and when Bader Ginsburg, a champion of women’s right, died less than two months before the election, her replacement became a source of concern for women, whose bodily autonomy could now be in jeopardy.
Bader Ginsburg, who during her career as lawyer and even before being appointed as judge handled more than 300 cases of gender based discrimination, was loved and revered by many. They were not given time to grieve – as soon as her death was made public, Trump and Mcconnell had already announced their intention of appointing another woman Supreme Court justice – a conservative one.
As feminists, we should keep in mind two other serving justices, incidentally conservatives – Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas. Both of their appointments have been approved by Senate, despite accusations of sexual assault and harassment by credible women, who were brave enough testify before the Senate. It seems Amy Coney Barrett would not be the only one on the Supreme Court unclear about women’s right for bodily autonomy.
Headline photo: Carlos Barria, Reuters.