Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation worsens the partisan divide

Ava Mac ‘21, Editor-in-Chief

Amy Coney Barrett once said in a 2016 speech at Jacksonville University’s Public Policy Institute, “We shouldn’t be putting people on the court that share our policy preferences. We should be putting people on the court who want to apply the Constitution.” These words have not aged well in light of recent events.

Oct. 27, 2020: Amy Coney Barrett was sworn-in as a justice of the Supreme Court after being nominated by President Trump on Sept. 26. The affair was a matter of partisan politics more than anything else.

Her very nomination by Trump as a Supreme Court justice was a product of hypocrisy, given (R) Senator Lindsey Graham’s famed words in 2016: “I want you to use my words against me… if there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said, ‘Let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.’”

These words apparently meant nothing to Graham as he swiftly joined the movement to confirm Barrett just days before the presidential election, overriding his previous statement on the unconstitutionality of such an action. This caused quite a severe amount of blowback from the Democratic party. “I think her whole confirmation process was extremely hypocritical,” senior Zach Kramer said as he weighed in. He added that it is “Borderline insanity. I’ve lost any hope I had left that the Republican party cares about anything more than power.”

Then came word of Barrett’s religious affiliations with the People of Praise group, a Christian community of about 1,700 members. Made up of people from many different Chirstian denominations, People of Praise is open to many, as it stresses the importance of unity and communal worship. But the group, according to past members, also adheres to strict traditional gender roles with women playing a secondary role in the household. 

Former member Coral Anika Theill told Newsweek that women are expected to be “absolutely obedient” to their husbands and the men in the group or they are “shamed, shunned, humiliated.” Although People of Praise has denied such claims, it is hard to ignore the shared experiences of so many past members.

Many of these past members also note the anti-LGBTQ+ policies of People of Praise, specifically the private Christian schools, Trinity Schools Inc., in affiliation with People of Praise. These schools with locations in Indiana, Minnesota, and Virginia have barred admission to children of same-sex parents, prevented LGBTQ+ people from becoming teachers at their schools, and taught homophobic rhetoric as a part of their curriculum, according to former members and employees of the school. Barrett not only sent at least three of her seven children to attend these schools, but also served as a trustee on the school board from 2015-2017 when these policies were in place.

Both Barrett and People of Praise, however, have been quite tight-lipped on her presence within both the school and the group, as according to the Associated Press, People of Praise have “erased numerous records from [their] website during the summer of 2017 when she was nominated as an appeals court judge that referred to Barrett and included photos of her and her family.” The only available evidence remaining is a picture of Barrett in attendance of a People of Praise 2006 women’s conference that was put in their magazine, Vine and Branches. The issue here is not of her religion, but of the bigoted beliefs and practices associated with this group. This has caused critics to question to what extent her faith and connection to outdated values could influence her philosophy on law and ruling on sensitive issues. Therefore, the hard-won progress for LGBTQ+ and women’s rights could potentially be at risk.

Many also consider Barrett’s past judicial experience (or lack thereof) worthy of criticism. After graduating from Rhodes College for her Bachelor of Arts degree and Notre Dame Law School for her Juris Doctor degree, she served as a law clerk to U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Laurence Silberman and Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia over the span of two years. She went on to work at a law firm in D.C. for another two years, teach as a professor at University of Notre Dame Law School for fifteen years, and serve as a justice on the seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for three years. 

Though this may seem like an extensive résumé, Barrett is the most inexperienced person nominated to the Supreme Court since 1991, when 43-year-old Clarence Thomas was nominated by President George H.W. Bush. Of the little practice in law she currently has, as of 2017, she could only remember three of the cases she worked on during her two years in private practice. Nominees for such a position on both the seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court are expected to provide details on ten. Barrett has also never performed any notable pro bono work—legal services for those of low-income—despite the American Bar Association code of professional responsibility calling for lawyers to complete at least 50 hours. 

And let us not forget the potential risk Barrett’s addition to the court may pose to healthcare and reproductive rights. Although Barrett has maintained that her “personal views don’t have anything to do with the way [she] would decide cases,” it is hard to ignore President Trump’s many promises over the past four years to nominate justices to overrule such cases. 

Even in 2015, before Trump was elected, he stated on Twitter, “If I win the presidency, my judicial appointments will do the right thing unlike Bush’s appointee John Roberts on Obamacare.” He also said in a debate in 2016,  “I will be appointing pro-life judges, I would think that [Roe V. Wade] would go back to the states… if we put another two or perhaps three justices on… that will happen automatically.” 

We cannot say with certainty how Barrett herself will rule on Supreme Court cases in the upcoming years, but the ulterior motives behind her nomination have been made abundantly clear. The judicial branch was never meant to be a partisan branch of government, and the hasty placement of inexperienced judges from either political party only worsens the divide. 

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