The Senate confirmed Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court on Monday. A month after her nomination by President Trump on Sept. 26, the 48-year-old conservative appeals court judge fills the vacancy left by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Sept. 18.
In a vote of 52-48, Judge Barrett was confirmed with all but one Republican vote and, for the first time in 151 years, no minority party votes. Her ascension fortifies a 6-3 conservative majority in the court as Trump’s third confirmed Supreme Court nominee, following Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
“Considering that this is the first time ever a Supreme Court nomination has occurred in the midst of a presidential election, I think that this says a lot about the Republican party as a whole, not just the Trump administration. Republican senators have openly gone back on their word to act in complete hypocrisy in order to advance their party agenda, and we are completely disregarding the will of the American people,” said Kylie Francisco, a junior political science and dance double major.
In 2016, Senate Republicans blocked all proceedings and consideration of Merrick Garland, who was nominated in March by former President Barack Obama, citing the coming election. The vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, a steadfast voice of conservatism, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposed the precedent of any presidential nominee to the court, stating the choice should be left to the next president.
Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa stated the actions in 2016 were "standard practice," and that “over the last nearly 80 years that Supreme Court nominees are not nominated and confirmed during a presidential election year.”
“The process was unnecessarily fast, and Trump didn’t consider the other candidates who were more qualified for the title of the Supreme Court Justice,” said Simone Soublet, a senior communication studies major.
Despite Democratic calls to leave a decision on Barrett to the results of this election, a conservative majority left little agency for the minority party. A total of 13 days separated Barrett’s nomination from her first hearing, making Barrett not only the first judge to be confirmed after July in an election year, also the one with the shortest period of consideration since President Gerald Ford nominated Paul Stevens in 1975. The average amount of time taken to confirm a Supreme Court justice, according to the Congressional Research Service, is approximately 70 days.
“One of the biggest upsets of this confirmation is the blatant hypocrisy and partisanship of the process. When President Obama wanted to elect a Supreme Court Justice after Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told the American people to ‘use his words against him.’ Graham stated, ‘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.’ Fast forward to 2020, his words were not used against him and instead ignored," said Angelina Mendez, a junior political science major.
Mendez continued, "The hearing's blatant politicization in the middle of a presidential election, where 65.5 million votes have already been cast, is a slap in the face to the American people. This hearing should have been held and handled in the same way it was in 2016."
Minority Democrats did invoke public concern and attention through procedural maneuvers. On the second day of questioning, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California inquired about Barrett's view on constitutional abortion rights, a topic of concern in light of a promise from Trump in 2016 to elect only pro-life justices in order to overturn Roe v. Wade. During the hearing, Barrett made no definitive statement on her views but did confirm her participation in a 2006 petition from an anti-abortion group, brought into discussion by Democratic Senator Pat Leahy of Vermont.
“She goes against so much of what the modern day person advocates for and supports. For example, she voted no on LGBTQ+ rights, and she as a woman does not believe in other women's choices when it comes to pregnancy and abortions. It’s possible that the Affordable Care Act could be completely overturned, which could leave millions of Americans uninsured and not able to receive affordable health care,” said Soublet.
When asked about her position on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by Dick Durbin, Democratic senator from Illinois, Barrett affirmed she is “not hostile to the ACA.” Appealing to a need for specificity as it applies to the Act, she left her answer at the suggestion that severability, a doctrine by which a court can invalidate certain provisions while leaving the rest intact, allows her neutrality. The issue is set to be brought before the high court in November, following the election; this case will decide the healthcare status of 21 million Americans.
“I talked to a lot of my friends the night she was confirmed,” said Mendez, “and most of them were panicking because, in the next month cases on abortion, immigration, health care, mail-in ballots for the election and LGBTQ+ rights are all at stake.”
Barrett is a former mentee of Scalia and clerked for him before his death. After her nomination, she stated that "his judicial philosophy is mine too." Citing this statement, Senator Feinstein questioned Barrett if this applies to Scalia’s view that gay marriage is not constitutionally protected.
In her response, Barrett did not provide a direct answer. Instead, she stated she would not discriminate on the basis of “sexual preference.” The use of the term "sexual preference" has left some to question her attitude toward the LGBTQ+ community.
“Fake ballot boxes, spreading rumors about voter fraud, and other voter suppression efforts that have been undertaken during this election completely undermine the very essence of democracy. It truly shows what a mess our governing system has become and only feeds into the public’s loss of trust in our national government. As a young person and daily new voter, it makes me especially frustrated to know that the people elected to power are blatantly abusing their offices,” said Francisco.
“I think this was a political move since having her in place will make it so Trump may have a vote if this election gets taken to the Supreme Court,” said Sean-Ryan Peterson, a junior English major.
This confirmation taking place so soon before the election and so shortly after California Republicans admitted to the placement of more than 50 fake drop boxes labeled “official" leaves students to consider where our democracy is and where it’s headed.
“All in all, it infuriated me to watch a rushed hearing before an election and amid a global pandemic. However, this also showed me and the American people how important their votes are in local elections that elect state Senators and Representatives. This election is not a joke and the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett has fueled my desire to create positive change and elect people in government that represents all Americans. This confirmation showed me how important it is to vote and be involved in politics,” said Mendez.