Following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, President Trump had the opportunity to appoint a new justice to the Supreme Court, making this his third appointment during his presidency. Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to be the newest member of the Supreme Court on October 27th, 2020. Justice Barrett is 48 years old, female, white, a devoted Christian, and is very conservative. Her appointment will swing the Supreme Court into a conservative majority.
According to the White House itself, Justice Barrett was appointed due to her experience as a law professor at Notre Dame and as a litigator. She has also served as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. She is currently serving as a judge for the 7th circuit court of appeals. She believes in a strict interpretation of the Constitution.
Barrett is extremely conservative. Some of her views regard restricting the right to abortion, making the path to citizenship harder for immigrants, repealing the affordable care act, and permitting verbal racism in the workplace. She’s known for not ruling in the interest of immigrants, workers, the lower class, the LGBT community, incarcerated individuals, and women’s rights.
The appointment of Justice Barrett sparked a lot of controversy for many reasons. The first being how close it is to the election. When President Obama had 8 months left in his term, an opportunity to appoint a Justice came up; however, it was blocked by Republicans in the Senate, claiming it was too close to the election. 4 years later President Trump was able to appoint a Justice with the election only a few days away, making this the closest appointment prior to an election in history. Secondly, her heavily conservative views put minority groups at risk. Barrett is in a place of power where she can take away the rights and protections of women and the LGBTQ+ community with the power of the court.
The two cases that are at most risk to be repealed are Roe v. Wade, which grants the right to abortion, and Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage. Justice Barrett has made it clear that she strongly opposes Roe v. Wade. While she hasn’t said directly she would overturn the case, her known bias in her rulings supports the idea that she would. Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito stated that they believe the court made a mistake in legalizing same-sex marriage. Now that the court has a conservative majority, it is a very real possibility that Obergefell v. Hodges can be overturned. Justice John Roberts may side with the liberal judges on these cases, but one other conservative would also have to do so in order to prevent these cases from being overturned. While Barret’s appointment can lead to these cases being overturned on the federal level, the decision to allow abortion and gay marriage would still be left to each state. In Illinois, both abortion and gay marriage are highly likely to remain legal.
The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is greatly at risk as well. Barret’s first case will involve the Affordable Care Act, and she has publicly stated her opposition to it. She believes Obamacare to be outside the powers of the Constitution. The other conservative Justices of the Supreme Court side with Barret and with them being the majority, there is strong potential for it to be repealed. President Trump has said that even if the Affordable Care Act is ruled unconstitutional, he will still mandate that healthcare providers give coverage to those with pre-existing conditions; however, his plan on how exactly to guarantee that remains unclear.
Regardless of who wins the Presidential election, Barret will remain in the Supreme Court and conservatives will have great power in the federal judiciary. Barret could be impeached by the U.S. Senate if she exhibits misconduct, but no evidence of misconduct has appeared thus far. If Joe Biden wins the election, he has implied that he would consider “packing the court”, meaning adding more seats to the Supreme Court so that he can appoint Democratic judges to offset the conservative majority. Either way, Amy Coney Barret’s appointment puts the highest court in the land in a highly volatile position.