Amy Coney Barrett was elected to the Supreme Court. What does this mean?


Monday, October 26, Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed as the new Supreme Court Justice, filling the vacancy left by late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

The Republican-controlled Senate pushed Barrett through in exactly a month after being nominated and had one of the closest votes in history, 52-48. Democrats called out the hypocrisy of Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, for denying former President Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland in 2016, saying the next Supreme Court justice should be chosen by the next president. Additionally, the Senate has never confirmed a Supreme Court nominee this close to an election. 

In 2017, President Trump selected Barrett to serve as a federal appeals court judge. Between 2002 and 2017, Barrett was a professor at Notre Dame Law school, where she also earned her Juris Doctorate in 1997. Before her time as a professor, Barret worked as a judicial law clerk for two years, then worked at a boutique law firm. 

Barrett is most known for her conservatism. The Supreme Court, now being 6-3, conservative-liberal, could transform the law in America. Many people are worried about how this could affect women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and the Affordable Care Act (ACA). 

Justice Barrett has defended herself on many occasions saying, “I would stress that my personal church affiliation or my religious belief would not bear in the discharge of my duties as a judge.” However, her connection to People of Praise, a conservation Christian faith group, and her support for anti-abortion groups have been widely discussed. 

During committee hearings, Barrett dodged most of Democrat’s questions and refused to address abortion, immigration, the ACA, the climate crisis, and the peaceful transfer of power. 

Roe v. Wade

During a presidential debate in 2016, President Trump said he’d appoint pro-life justices who’d overturn Roe. v. Wade, which would mean that instead of abortion being legalized nationwide, the choice would go back to the states. 

In 2016, Barrett was asked about how a future Supreme Court might allow states to pass more restrictions on abortions and at the time she said, “I don’t think the core case – Roe’s core holding that, you know, women have a right to an abortion – I don’t think that would change. But I think the question of whether people can get very late-term abortions, how many restrictions can be put on clinics – I think that would change.” However, late-term abortions are rare. In 2016 the CDC reported, 91 percent of abortion happen before 13 weeks and only 1.2 percent of abortions were performed at 21 weeks gestation. Generally, it’s unlikely for people to get an abortion past 24 weeks. It often depends on the state and doctor’s office, and usually occurs in rare cases for medical reasons. 

An NPR article quoted a Notre Dame law professor, who said it’s difficult to predict how Barrett would rule on abortion-related cases and says she is, “going to be very thoughtful about how she proceeds.” Other people like Kate Watson, an attorney, and bioethicist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, says that she expects Barrett to overrule Roe due to her straightforward record. 

In two court cases where a lower court ruled to block Indiana laws imposing limits on abortion, Barrett voted to hear arguments that could have potentially overruled the lower court. In a different case, Barrett voted to keep buffering zones that are designed to protect abortion patients from protesters outside clinics. 

Barrett has also been a part of anti-abortion groups like St Joseph County Right to Life. The Guardian found that she was a part of this group as a university professor. Right to Life is promoted by a local crisis pregnancy center in South Bend, Indiana, and appears to offer abortion. However, it’s linked to local church groups and actively tries to persuade women from getting abortions by providing false information. Although Barrett has never disclosed her affiliation with this group, public records reveal that she lived in the home of the group’s co-founder as a law student at Notre Dame. After that, she moved to Washington, where she lived with a People of Praise family. 

LGBTQ+ Rights

People of Praise is known for opposing same-sex marriage and have gone as far as to expel members who admit to having sex with the same gender. According to the Associated Press, Barrett served as a trustee in a school affiliated with the group, who block children with gay parents from attending.

Barrett has ties to the Alliance Defending Freedom which is a conservative legal group that has been at the front of trying to create laws arguing for an expensive view of religious freedom. They are known for being a hate-group and creating the so-called “bathroom bills” that aimed to target transgender people across multiple states. 

People are concerned about the upcoming Supreme Court case, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, which concerns Catholic Social Services, a foster care service affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, claims of being unable to match foster children with same-sex households because it violates its religious beliefs. After learning about this policy in 2018, Philadelphia refused to refer to the Roman Catholic adoption agency for new foster children. It then cited a city law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and updated its 2019 contract with foster care providers. Catholic Social Services argues that Philadelphia’s exclusion is religious discrimination, and violates the First Amendment’s protections for religious freedom. 

The Supreme Court leaned in favor of the Catholic adoption agency, according to CNBC. The main disagreement raised during arguments was whether the court will see Catholic Social Services as a government program or as the recipient of a license to provide a service. Religious groups usually don’t shape government programs that they object to. The conservatives seemed to think that Philadelphia’s motive was beyond same-sex equality. Brett Kavanaugh told the attorney from Philadelphia that the city was “looking for a fight.” Another conservative, Samuel Alito said, “It’s the fact the city can’t stand the message that Catholic Social Services and the Archdiocese are sending by continuing to adhere to the old-fashioned view about marriage.”

Barrett also suggested that Philadelphia was overreaching. She asked the attorney whether a state could take over hospitals and force doctors to perform abortions. The attorney said that Barrett’s hypothetical was not comparable to Philadelphia’s role in the foster care system. 

Affordable Care Act

The ACA, also known as Obamacare, is being argued in the Supreme Court a week after the election. The primary goal of the ACA is to make health insurance more affordable and accessible to people by doing things like implementing subsidies, premium tax credits, and cost-sharing reductions. It has also changed many things like requiring all insurers to cover pre-existing conditions, extending young adult coverage to 26 on family plans, establishing a penalty for not having insurance, and ending lifetime limits on coverage. 

The challenge to the ACA is centered on whether the individual mandate that requires most Americans to buy health insurance or pay a penalty is constitutional. In 2017, Barrett wrote that Chief Justice John Roberts, who ruled the penalty, “pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute.”

During the second day of the committee hearings, Democrats brought up Barrett’s critique of Roberts and implied that she opposed the ACA. Barrett said she is not “hostile” to the ACA and notes that the current case before the court is dealing with severability, which examines if a law can stand if part of it is removed. In this case, the Supreme Court is unsure if the ACA could stand without the penalty. 

Before Joe Biden became President-Elect, there were questions on whether he would pack the court. Many people view packing the court as controversial. There have been nine Supreme Court Justices since 1869, although the constitution doesn’t say how many justices should serve. 

Before being elected, in an interview with the CBS “60 Minutes” program, Biden said he is not a fan of the idea, but he hasn’t ruled it out. He said, “If elected, what I will do is I’ll put together a national commission of, bipartisan commission of scholars, constitutional scholars, Democrats, Republicans, liberal, conservative. And I will – ask them to over – 180 days come back to me with recommendations as to how to – reform the court system because it’s getting out of whack – the way in which it’s being handled and it’s not about court-packing. There’s a number of other things that our constitutional scholars have debated and I’d look to see what recommendations that commission might make.”

The change from notorious RBG, who had a strong voice in many things like gender equality, women’s rights, and the separation of church and state, to Barrett, is a drastic one. Although Barrett has stated many times that her faith does not compromise her work; her affiliations to extreme conservative religious groups have people concerned. Her addition to the Supreme Court has the potential to affect many people’s rights.