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How new US Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett could change America forever

·7-min read
Amy Coney Barrett is sworn in during a ceremony at the White House. (Source: Getty, Instagram/@monachalabi)
Amy Coney Barrett is sworn in during a ceremony at the White House. (Source: Getty, Instagram/@monachalabi)

Amy Coney Barrett has been officially confirmed to the United States Supreme Court, a move that is being celebrated by American Republicans.

She replaces the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed last month, and will be the fifth woman to ever sit on the Supreme Court’s bench.

The appointment of the 48-year-old, nominated by US President Donald Trump on 26 September, won in a 52-to-48 vote and delivers a 6-3 conservative majority in the Court.

It’s a move that has Republicans, especially Trump, cheering, because it represents the Supreme Court’s decisive tilt to the right – which could impact major decisions that touch many aspects of American life.

New York City-based Cardozo School of Law professor Kate Shaw described it as “the most conservative court in 100 years”.

The appointment to justice is a life-long one, meaning she’ll make decisions for generations to come. She’s also now the youngest member of the court.

More on the US Election:

Who is Amy Coney Barrett and what are her views?

Before she was nominated by Trump, Barrett served as a circuit judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit for three years.

While serving on the federal bench, she is also a professor at her alma mater, the University of Notre Dame Law School, and was voted as professor of the year multiple times.

Politically and constitutionally, Barrett is known as a conservative. She’s a mother of seven, two who have been adopted from Haiti, and a devout Catholic.

On topics such as abortion, gun rights, discrimination and immigration, she has a solid record of voting conservatively.

She’s also not averse to the death penalty, and has previously voted to allow executions to go ahead.

She’s also what’s known as an originalist, meaning she interprets the constitution and legislation as it is written at the time. It also means she’s unlikely to interpret the law to fit shifting contemporary values.

Why is her appointment such a big deal?

There’ll be no rest for the wicked: Barrett will be expected to get to work very soon.

The confirmation of Barrett as the new justice in the US Supreme Court is being hailed as a major achievement for Trump, because she’ll be making decisions on some key legislation that would be a political win for him.

Trump and Republican-led states are looking to invalidate Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, a mere week after the election. Millions of Americans have been able to get medical insurance through the 2010 healthcare law, and private insurers have been blocked from denying coverage to Americans with pre-existing conditions, according to ABC.

There are also major concerns that she’ll overturn a landmark case establishing the right to abortion in America, known as Roe v. Wade, now that she’s a justice.

Trump also wants the US Supreme Court to decide on the outcome of the election, and wants her to decide on election-related cases that go before the justices.

Democrats were united in opposition against Barrett’s appointment, and argued that the whole process had been rushed before the US Presidential Election.

Kamala Harris, Joe Biden’s candidate for US Vice President, came out strongly against Barrett’s appointment and said her confirmation was “despicable”.

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But the prevailing concern is that her appointment tips rulings to the right.

How Barrett could tip the balance of the US Supreme Court

The chancellor of Washington University and a professor of political science at the University of Washington (two different universities!) have measured the political views of the justices on a spectrum by analysing their past voting records.

Based on those voting records, British data journalist and Guardian US data editor Mona Chalabi illustrated what the balance of the court would look like.

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What’s Barrett said to her critics?

Barrett has said she won’t be making decisions as a justice based on her personal beliefs.

In her opening remarks at the White House ceremony when she was administered the constitutional oath, Barrett said: “It is the job of a judge to resist her policy preferences. It would be a dereliction of duty for her to give into them.

“Federal judges don't stand for election. Thus, they have no basis for claiming that their preferences reflect those of the people. This separation of duty from political preference is what makes the judiciary distinct among the three branches of government.”

“A judge declares independence not only from Congress and the president but also from the private beliefs that might otherwise move her.”

"The oath that I have solemnly taken tonight means at its core that I will do my job without any fear or favor, and that I will do so independently of both the political branches and of my own preferences.”

What’s Trump said about her appointment?

US Donald Trump next to Amy Coney Barrett
US President Donald Trump stands newly sworn in US Supreme Court Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett at a ceremonial swearing-in event at the White House October 26, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

At the swearing-in ceremony, Trump said there was no more solemn obligation of greater honour as a president than to appoint Supreme Court justices.

"The Constitution is the ultimate defense of American liberty, the faithful application of the law is the cornerstone of our republic.

“The Barrett family has captured America’s heart. It is highly fitting that Justice Barrett fills the seat of a true pioneer for women, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” Trump said

“Tonight, Justice Barrett becomes not only the fifth woman to serve on our nation's highest court, but the very first mother of school-aged children to become a Supreme Court justice. Very important.”

Her appointment comes just eight days before the 2020 US Presidential Election, to be held on 3 November.

Bonus fun fact

Barrett’s appointment also flies in the face of Ginsburg’s last words, which were, according to her granddaughter: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed”.

But commentators have cast doubt on whether or not she actually said this.

“Many commentators are quietly making the point that Supreme Court justices don’t choose their successors under the US Constitution, but few are asking what the US is supposed to do about Ginsburg’s dream if President Donald Trump gets back in,” writes Colby Cosh, a journalist for Canadian newspaper National Post.

“Leave her chair empty for four years? Reverse the outcome of the election?

“My instincts, and indeed my regard for Ginsburg, suggest that her testament may be the invention of a grieving relative. History is full of these, and they usually do have the nature of pious exemplars.”

–with wires

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