Our rights are in danger: Why I’m scared of Barrett’s nomination

| Senior Editor

Supreme Court Nominee Amy Coney Barrett is on track to be confirmed this week, with a vote on her confirmation set for Thursday, Oct. 22. That confirmation will be on party lines, with Democrats resoundingly against Mrs. Barrett and almost all of the Senate’s 53 Republicans in support. By the second day of her confirmation hearings last week, 51 Senate Republicans—the amount needed for a confirmation vote—had indicated they supported her confirmation.

This is terrifying. I cannot overstate the amount of fear that Thursday’s vote inspires in me—more, somehow, than Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings in 2018.

Many news outlets have dedicated time to explaining what Mrs. Barrett’s policies and votes could look like if she’s confirmed to the Court. But first, let’s take a step back and look at why the upcoming vote scares me.

The Supreme Court, in an ideal world, is unaffected by the President and Congress. Yes, justices are appointed by the President and confirmed by Congress, but that appointment is a one-time deal. Justices serve for life, and always have—that rule was set in the Judiciary Act of 1789 and signed into law by George Washington. The reasoning for this? So that no justice would be more motivated by political behavior than by the word of the law. Clearly, we’re past that.

The idea of completely impartial justices is ridiculous. Everyone has personal political leanings, and even different methods of interpreting the law (a more closed reading versus an open one, for example) can result in justices that tend to rule conservatively or liberally. The first impeachment of a Supreme Court justice, back in 1804, was for politically motivated reasons—Associate Justice Samuel Chase was impeached on what a History.com article calls “politically motivated charges of acting in a partisan manner” (Chase was acquitted).

The Court has grown steadily more politically involved since its founding. In the 1930s, Chief Justice Hughes “presided over the Court’s transformation of its basic role from defender of property rights to protector of civil liberties.” Chief Justice Warren, in the 1950s and 60s, would expand that further. During his tenure, “the Court rewrote much of the corpus of constitutional law. Warren… actively exercis[ed] his authority to reach the results he favored.” This process of actively politicizing the court led to a failed impeachment effort against Warren, and to the Court we see today.

Merle Garland was our first warning, but back in 2016, distracted by high school and unable to vote, I didn’t see it. Nominated eight months before the Presidential election, the Senate made a politically motivated decision to not allow confirmation hearings or a vote. The Republican majority decided they did not have to allow the confirmation of a justice nominated by a Democrat, so they didn’t. Simple.

After the incredibly partisan confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh in 2018, which featured numerous accusations of sexual assault that were given the bare minimum of investigation, I thought that would be it. I hoped, naively, that the debauchery of what is supposed to be the highest court in the land would stop there. Needless to say, it hasn’t.

Mrs. Barrett has done nothing so grievous as sexual assault. Her confirmation hearings were shockingly civil. Unlike in 2018, confirming Mrs. Barrett would not put someone suspected of criminal activity on the Court.

What it will do is threaten the rulings the Court has made over the last decades. Barrett is pro-life, and the New York Times reported last week that she has stated that she favors overturning Roe v. Wade. The thought of not having bodily autonomy and not being able to obtain a desired medical procedure, should I need it, terrifies me. Pete Buttigieg said on Sunday that Barrett’s confirmation puts his marriage at risk, and he might well be right: two weeks ago, Justices Alito and Thomas wrote an opinion suggesting that they would like to revisit the decision to allow same-sex marriage. As a queer woman, the idea that the Supreme Court could take away my and so many of my fellow queer Americans’ rights is horrifying. The New York Times reported on Monday that Barrett recently called climate change science “controversial.” The amount of damage, both to the environment and to people, that will be done if a climate change denier is appointed to the Court is indescribable. And these are just a few issues.

The Supreme Court is undeniably political. And often, this is a good thing; for an example, see Warren’s most famous case, Brown vs Board of Education. But I live in fear of the day when the Court’s power could be used to take away rights that my fellow Americans and I have grown used to enjoying, rights that should by no means be taken away. I had hoped that that day would never come. But the confirmation of Barrett this Thursday, which will provide a strong conservative majority on the Court, might just be that day. And that terrifies me.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.

Subscribe