Is supreme court nominee Amy Coney Barrett a threat to US liberals?
She is one of Trump's best chances to excite conservative voters ahead of the presidential election campaign
Washington — When President Donald Trump on Saturday named Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the US supreme court, it was among the least surprising decisions of his term.
Trump’s conservative base had made clear that Barrett, 48, was their top choice, and putting her on the court and creating a 6-3 conservative majority is one of the best chances he has to excite those voters in the final weeks of the presidential election campaign.
The enthusiasm she inspires on the Right stems largely from her very public religious faith and the assumption that she would be a sure vote to overturn or significantly weaken Roe vs Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established the legal right to abortion for US women. Those are the same reasons Barrett is unacceptable to many on the Left, especially as she would be taking the seat of liberal icon Ginsburg, a strong supporter of abortion rights.
What’s her background?
Barrett grew up in a suburb of New Orleans and attended a Catholic girls’ high school before graduating from Rhodes college in Memphis, Tennessee, and Notre Dame Law School in South Bend, Indiana. Her lack of the Ivy League pedigree typical of supreme court justices was one reason Trump chose Yalie Brett Kavanaugh over her for the last vacancy on the court, according to a person familiar with the president’s thinking.
After law school, Barrett clerked for two conservative judges: Washington federal appeals court judge Laurence Silberman and the late supreme court justice Antonin Scalia. She returned to Notre Dame as a professor in 2002 and taught there full-time until Trump appointed her as a judge to the federal appeals court in Chicago in 2017. She still teaches at Notre Dame part-time.
Barrett’s religious background
Barrett identifies as Catholic and has often spoken publicly of the importance of faith in her life. In a 2006 Notre Dame Law School commencement speech, she urged graduates to direct their legal careers towards “building the Kingdom of God”. Barrett is also a member of a small, mostly Catholic “charismatic covenant community” called People of Praise that has adopted some Pentecostal practices such as prophesy and speaking in tongues.
Liberals have expressed concern that she will let her religious beliefs guide her judicial decisions on hot-button social issues. At Barrett’s 2017 appeals court confirmation hearing, Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein told her that “the dogma lives loudly within you”, a remark that went on to become a rallying cry among religious conservatives.
So would Barrett vote to overturn Roe vs Wade?
It’s not 100% clear. Barrett responded to Feinstein that her personal beliefs would not affect her legal analysis. Jonathan Adler, a conservative law professor at Case Western Reserve University who is friendly with Barrett, says no-one should assume she will overturn the US abortion precedent. In a 2013 speech, she expressed doubt that the decision would ever be overturned.
As an appeals court judge, however, Barrett has consistently sided with abortion opponents. And her personal beliefs on the subject are clear. She co-authored a 1998 law review article that declared abortion was “always immoral”. For religious conservatives, Barrett’s family life also offers evidence that she’s a true believer in the pro-life cause. The judge and her husband, Jesse Barrett, a federal prosecutor, have seven children, including two adopted from Haiti and a son with Down syndrome.
Where would she stand on other cases?
Barrett has voiced scepticism about the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. In a 2017 law review article, she criticised chief justice John Roberts’s opinion upholding the law, arguing that he pushed the text “beyond its plausible meaning”. That’s a concern for liberals since a fresh constitutional challenge to Obamacare goes before the Supreme Court a week after the election.
She may prove unpredictable though. Barrett identifies as a textualist — a legal scholar who seeks to determine the plain meaning of legislation rather than interpreting the intentions of its authors.
“To figure out what the law is, we go to the source,” she said during a 2019 panel at the conservative Federalist Society. “We identify the meaning of the text that the people ratified.”
Another textualist, Trump supreme court appointee Neil Gorsuch, stunned social conservatives in June with a sweeping decision interpreting the text of the 1964 Civil Rights Act as protecting gay and transgender employees from workplace discrimination.
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