After the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Senate prepares to vote on the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett
One week after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, President Trump has nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett, of the Seventh Circuit and the University of Notre Dame Law School, to the United States Supreme Court.
The death of Justice Ginsburg on September 18, 2020 calls for reflection on the many accomplishments of her tenure on the Supreme Court as well as consideration of the many repercussions of her death.
Appointed in 1993 by Bill Clinton, Ginsburg became known as a warrior for gender equality and the leader of the liberal bloc of the supreme court. Even before her appointment, she spent her career as a litigator making a name for herself litigating gender inequality-based cases, six of which were argued in front of the Supreme Court. These six notably included Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, which established the practice that social security benefits are applied without distinction to widows’ and widowers’ families. This case was filed by the widower, Stephan Wiesenfeld, and the outcome furthered the cause of gender equality under the law in pursuit of women’s rights.
Justice Ginsburg believed that an unrestricted right to abortion is fundamental to woman’s rights. In her dissent in Gonzales v Carhart (2007), she stated outright, “[A]t stake in cases challenging abortion restrictions is a woman’s ‘control over her [own] destiny.’” Throughout her time on the bench, she defended this right to choose, even as recently as June Medical Services v. Russo (2020). This case ruled that doctors need not “have active admitting privileges at a hospital that is located not further than thirty miles from the location at which the abortion is performed or induced.”
The extent to which she was credited with maintaining abortion rights is encapsulated in the headline of a September 19 opinion piece in the L.A. Times: “Ruth Bader Ginsburg protected your abortion rights: be afraid now that she’s gone.”
What happens “now that she’s gone” is the question of which the Republican majority senate will seek to provide part of an answer. Many liberals, including the Democratic party nominee, Joe Biden, insisted that the nomination ought to be delayed until after the presidential election. In a September 18 statement, he insisted, “The voters should pick the president, and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider.”
Despite these arguments, on September 25, president Donald Trump announced his nomination of the Seventh Circuit’s Judge Amy Coney Barrett, whom he described as “a woman of unparalleled achievement, towering intellect, sterling credentials, and unyielding loyalty to the Constitution.” Judge Barrett is a practicing Catholic, mother of seven, and professor in the University of Notre Dame Law School.
Judge Barrett graduated from Notre Dame Law School in 1997 before clerking for Judge Laurence H. Silbermanon on the D.C. Court of Appeals and then for the late Justice Antonin Scalia. After her time as a clerk, she was hired by her alma mater, Notre Dame, in 2002. While at Notre Dame, she has emphasized the importance of faith in the legal sphere, for instance, telling Notre Dame Law students, “A legal career is but a means to an end … and that end is building the Kingdom of God.” In the words of Father Jenkins, “An alumna and a faculty member of Notre Dame Law School, Judge Barrett has epitomized the university’s commitment to teaching, scholarship, justice and service to society.”
Before nominating Judge Barrett, Trump was sure to justify his intention to make a nomination. During a September 19 rally in North Carolina, he stated, “There have been 29 times a vacancy opened during an election year or prior to an inauguration… Every single time, the sitting president made a nomination.” One of these 29 instances was four years ago when then president, Barack Obama, appointed Merrick Garland after the death of the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
Back in 2016, however, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell never called the Senate to a vote. In a September 18 statement, McConnell explained why this situation is different. “Since the 1880s, no Senate has confirmed an opposite-party president’s Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year.” In the case at hand, both the presidency and the Senate are controlled by the Republican party.
A confirmation of Judge Barrett would leave just three members of the liberal block of the Supreme Court: Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan. This may have a significant impact on the likelihood of verdicts like the one in the aforementioned case, June Medical Services v. Russo and religious liberty cases such as Fulton v. Philadelphia, which would maintain a religious exemption for a foster care home which refused to license same-sex couples as foster parents.
However, Father Jenkins calls us to look beyond speculation about the future of the Supreme Court and focus on what is now at hand. “I join [Judge Barrett’s] colleagues in the law school and across the campus in congratulating her on the nomination and wish her and her family well through what has become, sadly, a personally bruising confirmation process.” He, and the entire University of Notre Dame, recognize the honor of the nomination of one of its own professors and alumni, and waits to see if a daughter of Our Lady’s University will take the bench of the highest court in the land.
Joe DeReuil is a freshman from St. Paul, Minnesota majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies and political science. When he is not searching for a lake to shovel the snow off of so that he can play pond hockey like he does back home, he is probably reading Dostoyevsky on the front porch of Sorin College. If he is not found there, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org