By Nafina Raha
President Donald Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court on September 26, a mere eight days following the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was originally one of Trump’s top picks for the Supreme Court seat that belonged to retired Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018, and she was a favorite among conservatives. However, the seat went to Justice Brett Kavanaugh instead.
Barrett is an attorney and jurist, who currently serves as a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Prior to and during her time on the federal bench, she was also a professor of law at Notre Dame Law School.
Now, after having already nominated two justices to the Supreme Court over the past four years, Trump has publicly stated that he seeks to appoint justices that he hopes will overrule Roe v. Wade and dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
The potential majority-conservative panel that would follow if she is confirmed threatens the accessibility of healthcare to low-income families, the autonomy of women, immigrant rights, and gun rights, among a plethora of other issues. In particular, Barrett’s own history has given many Americans reason to believe that their worries may become legitimate problems.
As a devout Catholic, Barrett has found lots of support from religious right-wing conservatives. Meanwhile, the left wing has expressed concerns that her religious sentiments will impact her rulings as a judge. In a document titled “Catholic Judges in Capital Cases” published in 1998 with John H. Garvey, she wrote about her inability to separate her religion from the law in capital cases and how she is obliged to adhere to the teachings of the Catholic Church. In 2017, during the confirmation hearings for Barrett’s current judgeship, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California voiced Democrats’ concerns, telling Barrett that the “dogma lives within you.” Barrett responded by stating that she removes her personal faith from her rulings as a judge, contradicting what she had written in the past.
Recently, it has become apparent that Barrett has ties to People of Praise, a Christian group with anti-abortion sentiments and very misogynistic views. The board of People of Praise is all male, and it has referred to women as “handmaids.” It asserts that the man should be the leader of the household, and is avidly against contraception and abortion. Recently, the group has been trying to erase any mention of her from their organization in an effort to brighten her public image.
This nomination has raised fears for many women nationwide, as Barrett’s past record suggests that she will turn the Supreme Court further to the right, and undo much of her predecessor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legacy.
Kamala Harris, the Democratic nominee for Vice President and California Senator, has stated that Barrett would “undo (Ginsburg’s) legacy and erase everything she did for our country.”
Her position on the Supreme Court would create a 6-3 far-right conservative majority, and could allow them to easily strike down the ACA.
Barrett has historically opposed a tenet of the ACA involving the inclusion of contraception in healthcare plans, and has criticized the initial Supreme Court decision that upheld the law. In 2012, Barrett signed a petition that objected to the provision of the ACA that required most employer health insurance plans to include contraception coverage. This petition stated that the mandate was an “assault” on the “religious liberty and the rights of conscience” of employers.
A statement from the petition read: “The simple fact is that the Obama administration is compelling religious people and institutions who are employers to purchase a health insurance contract that provides abortion-incuding drugs, contraception, and sterilization.” Barrett’s support and signing of this petition shows that her religious beliefs may very well compel her to support striking down the ACA should she ascend to SCOTUS.
Meanwhile, Roe v. Wade could be facing its greatest challenge yet. Publicly, Barrett has stated that she would intend to follow precedent when ruling on the Supreme Court, but her record on abortion indicates that she will encourage restrictions on abortion, and even possibly support overturning Roe v. Wade. Barrett’s past has suggested a definite opposition to abortion rights, but, like most conservative nominees, she has been cautious and vague in her responses about her personal beliefs about the subject.
She has remarked that it is unlikely for Roe v. Wade to be overturned, instead focusing on how changes will be made in terms of how abortions will be funded.
In 2013, she stated, “The fundamental element, that the woman has a right to choose abortion, will probably stand. The controversy now is about funding. It’s a question of whether abortions will be publicly or privately funded.”
However, this statement was made before Trump’s rise to the presidency and his appointment of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, both right-wing conservatives, to the Supreme Court, whose positions have made the overturning of Roe v. Wade much more plausible.
Proof of Barrett’s anti-abortion sentiments can be found in her signing of a newspaper ad placed by St. Joseph County Right to Life, an anti-abortion group, in 2006 that supported overturning Roe v. Wade.
In addition to this, Barrett has supported gun rights. During her judgeship on the Seventh Circuit, she wrote that the Second Amendment does not necessarily prohibit felons from owning a gun. She declared that a Wisconsin law, that barred people convicted of a felony from owning a gun, to be unconstitutional.
The shift to a 6-3 conservative majority could result in vast changes in terms of access to healthcare, immigration, abortions rights, and gun rights.
Concerns have also been raised about how Barrett would impact immigrant rights because of her support of an effort by the Trump administration to tighten the “public charge” rule, which would allow officials to deny a green card, and thus deny permanent legal status, to immigrants if they are likely to be in need of public assistance. Courthouse News service has reported that this “public charge” rule “adds barriers for immigrants seeking green cards if they rely on public benefits, food stamps, or housing vouchers.”
In addition, Barrett has been openly hostile to the LGBTQIA+ community. She has referred to transgender women as “physiological males” when discussing which bathroom transgender people should go to, expressing an obvious prejudice towards trans people. She has also expressed a very clear bias against same-sex marriage, supporting the conservative views within her church when she signed onto a letter that stated that “marriage and family (are) founded on the indissluble commitment of a man and a woman.”
Many LGBTQIA+ organizations have expressed concerns that Barrett’s religious beliefs, along with her creation of a conservative majority on the panel, which many fear would result in a vote to undo marriage equality.
The President of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Alexis McGill Johnson, put out a statement in response to Barrett’s nomination, stating, “Nominating Amy Coney Barrett is a particular insult to the legacy of Justice Ginsburg. Barrett’s history of hostility toward reproductive health and rights, expanded healthcare access, and more demonstrate that she will put Justice Ginsburg’s long record of ensuring that everyone receives equal justice under the law at risk.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to begin confirmation hearings on October 12 for Barrett’s nomination.