Our review of The Amy Coney Barrett S.C. confirmation hearings
The tragic passing of the distinguished Supreme Court Justice and vibrant women’s rights activist, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, left a void in our hearts, a deprived justice system, and an abandoned Supreme Court Justice seat. After RBG’s passing, President Trump made no hesitation in promptly pursuing a nominee to fill her vacant seat. This past week, members of Congress spent four long, grueling days questioning the President’s Supreme Court Justice Nominee, Amy Coney Barrett.
These are the key takeaways from the 30+ hours of the past Amy Barrett confirmation hearings.
First off is the Judge’s background:
Amy Coney Barrett is a 48 years old mother. She attended Notre Dame Law School (where she later returned to be a professor of law), she clerked for the Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in 1998, she was appointed by Chief Justice John Roberts in 2010 to serve on the advisory committee for the federal rules of Appellate Procedure and was nominated for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017 by President Trump. (Barrett was confirmed by the Senate- 55 to 43- for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, even having three Democrats vote in her favor.) Barrett has as well been married for 20+ years and is currently the mother of seven children- two of whom were adopted from Haiti, and one of whom has been diagnosed with Down syndrome.
During her opening statement, Judge Barrett first highlighted the fact that she is a mother deeply invested in her family and that she doesn’t believe her job to be the greatest objective of her life. She spent a third of her opening statement speaking about her family and the importance they have in her life. Barrett said: “I’m used to being in a group of nine, my family. Nothing is more important to me and I’m very proud to have them behind me.”
Judge Barrett continued her opening statement amplifying her contention that the role of a judge is to strictly adhere to the legal text as written and not as the judge wished it were. She explained: “It was the content of Justice Scalia’s reasoning that shaped me. His Judicial philosophy was straightforward: a judge must apply the law as it is written, not as she wishes it were. Sometimes that approach meant reaching results that he [Scalia] did not like but as he put it in one of his best-known opinions, ‘That is what it means to say that we have a government of laws, and not of men’.”
This Judicial philosophy of hers arose numerous times during the confirmation hearing. For example, there were suggestions that her religious viewpoints, being a religious Catholic, would bias her legal viewpoints and proceedings.
Her response to such suggestions correlated with what she said in her opening statement, that she will strive to make legal decisions solely based on the law as written and not allow her viewpoints to affect her decision making.
The Senate hearing imposed question after question on Judge Amy Barrett about important social issues like healthcare, women’s reproductive rights, and same-sex marriage, which are all hotly contested topics. The Supreme Court Nominee, though, was not very transparent in her answers and refused to give direct explanations revealing her positions about said issues.
Barrett did, however, spotlighted her belief that the role of the Judiciary Court System is simply to accurately interpret the law as written in a just way. She stretched her belief that the role of the Judiciary branch is to not make policy changes but to carry out the legal process already created by the legislative branch. Judge Barret said: “Courts are not designed to solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life. The policy decisions and value judgments of government must be made by the political branches, elected by and accountable to the people. The public should not expect courts to do so, and courts should not try.”
She later went on to further explain that if a judge were to incorporate policy change or personal political viewpoints into their decision-making, they would be obstructing the fundamentals of American democracy. Judge Barret said: “Part of the rationale for courts adhering to the rule of law and for judges taking great care to avoid imposing their policy preferences, is that it’s inconsistent with democracy.”
There is also a foundation and accepted precedent for the fact that Judge Barret deflected many questions regarding how exactly she views contented topics. The first is the Model Code of Judicial Conduct. The American Bar Association (ABA) writes in regards to a judge answering questions that might engage them in political or campaign activity: “A judge shall uphold and promote the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety. A judge shall perform the duties of judicial office impartially, competently, and diligently.” Because of this rule, Judge Barret was simply unable to answer the numerous questions about her personal viewpoints regarding social issues that have become so politicized. Furthermore, under Canon 5 of the Model Code, a judge or judicial candidate is forbidden from indicating how they will rule on issues that are likely to come before the courts. They are also barred from making any statement that would create the appearance they are not impartial. This is a critical rule to maintain an independent judiciary. Supreme Court Justices must remain impartial in the event an actual case comes before them. Therefore, nominees are unable to even hint as to how they would rule in such cases.
The second precedent established is The Ginsburg Rule. During the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s SCJ confirmation hearing, then-Senator Joe Biden established rules regarding such confirmation hearings. Among these rules, one was that the nominees may not give direct answers to particular questions. During RBG’s hearing, Justice Ginsburg refused two senators’ requests to express her views on homosexual rights. Ginsberg said: “Anything I say could be taken as a hint or a forecast on how I would treat a classification that is going to be in question before a court.” She exercised the Rule to avoid answering any questions asked relating to sexual orientation, saying: “I cannot say one word on that subject that would not violate what I said had to be my rule about no hints, no forecasts, no previews.”
Although many argue that Judge Barrett was ambiguous and inconclusive when asked about pressing societal issues, she was maintaining widely accepted precedent by not indicating how she would rule on issues likely to come before the court- the same rules that Justice Ginsberg utilized during her confirmation hearing.
Judge Barrett amazed Americans all over the nation by arriving at the stand with absolutely no notes prepared and spoke straight through the entire hearing unaided.
If appointed, Judge Amy Coney Barrett would be the only Supreme Court Justice who hasn’t attended an ivy league, namely Harvard or Yale law school. She would also be the first Supreme Court Justice to be the mother of school-age children.