By Jessica Easthope and Bill Miller
Judge Amy Coney Barrett became Supreme Court Justice Barrett Monday, Oct. 26 after the Senate voted 52-48 to confirm her nomination to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Justice Barrett is the third Supreme Court nomination by President Donald Trump and the sixth Catholic on the nation’s highest judicial panel. Her position secures a 6-3 majority of conservatives on the Court.
Barrett, at age 48, could serve for decades as a justice. She is the fifth woman to serve on the Supreme Court, but the first with school-age children; she has seven.
Following the vote, Justice Clarence Thomas administered a ceremonial swearing-in for Barrett during a brief White House ceremony. Her husband, Jesse, held the Bible on which she swore the pledge. Chief Justice John Roberts administered the judicial oath to Barrett in a private ceremony at the Supreme Court on Tuesday morning.
“It’s a privilege to be asked to serve my country in this office,” the new justice told the audience on the South Lawn of the White House, “and I stand here tonight, truly honored and humbled.”
Barrett also said that although judges don’t face elections, “we still work for you.”
“It is your Constitution that establishes the rule of law and the judicial independence that is so central to it,” she added. “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.”
Justice Barrett comes to the Supreme Court amid a very contentious presidential election.
Marc DeGirolami, a law professor at St. John’s University, said Monday’s events put Justice Barrett in a position to participate in Supreme Court decisions regarding potential disputes in election voting.
The Court’s 6-3 conservative majority is viewed by Democrats as a disadvantage for legal arguments on issues important to their bases, such as challenges to the Affordable Care Act, Roe vs. Wade, and climate change.
DeGirolami is the Cary Fields Professor of Law and the co-director of the Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s. He said Justice Barrett’s track record is one of fairness, not partisanship.
He added that nothing in those accomplishments suggest her Catholic faith would influence her decisions on the Court. She was grilled on faith during her 2017 Senate Confirmation hearings for her seat on the 7th Court of Appeals
“One of my colleagues at another law school said there’s no Catholic way to cook a hamburger,” DeGirolami said. “And in the same way, there’s no Catholic way to interpret the Constitution.”
“There’s no Catholic way to do statutory interpretation, so it’s not like there’s one sort of outcome that all Catholics think is the correct set that will follow from the confirmation of a Justice Barrett,” he added. “If you notice this time around, the Senators largely stayed away from her religion. The subjects of conversation were of other things, the Affordable Care Act and how her vote might go, or her views on particular Supreme Court cases of the past.”
DeGirolami also noted that while Catholics are concerned about abortion, he was “dubious that a Justice Barrett would mean an immediate reversal of Roe vs. Wade.” That Supreme Court ruling made the right to an abortion legal throughout the U.S.
However, DeGirolami explained “Roe” could be challenged other ways in the Court such as, whether there might be “increased limitations with respect to the sorts of scope that that right enjoys as states bring more and more challenges to the scope of that right.”
Before Monday night’s vote, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), assailed Republican colleagues and President Trump for not waiting until after the election to replace Justice Ginsburg.
That’s what happened four years ago when President Barack Obama was prevented from replacing the late Justice Antonin Scalia with Judge Merrick Garland. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to let the Senate move forward on Garland, saying that the task should go to the next holder of the executive branch, who turned out to be President Trump.
Sen. Schumer before Monday’s vote accused Republicans of hypocrisy.
But Sen. McConnell noted a difference between 2016 and 2020, that the makeup of government four years ago had the Democrats in charge of the executive branch while the GOP dominated the Senate; therefore, he said, awaiting the outcome of the 2016 election was appropriate.
But in 2020, McConnell explained, Republicans controlled the White House and the Senate, so it was their duty to fill the seat vacant since Ginsburg’s death last month.
“The Senate is doing the right thing,” McConnell said.
Still, the Brooklyn-born Sen. Schumer fumed.
“I want to be very clear with my Republican colleagues,” he said. “You may win this vote and Amy Coney Barrett may become the next associate justice of the Supreme Court, but you will never, never get your credibility back.”
“Generations yet unborn will suffer the consequences of this nomination, as the globe gets warmer, as workers continue to fall behind, as unlimited dark money floods our politics, as reactionary state legislatures curtail a woman’s right to choose, gerrymandered districts and limit the rights of minorities to vote,” Schumer continued, “my deepest, greatest, and most abiding sadness tonight is for the American people and what this nomination will mean for their lives, their freedoms, their fundamental rights.”
“Monday, October 26, 2020 — it will go down as one of the darkest days in the 231-year history of the United States Senate,” he concluded.
In her Monday night address, Justice Barrett said the confirmation process had illuminated for her the fundamental differences between the federal judiciary and the U.S. Senate.
“And perhaps the most acute is the role of policy preferences,” she said. “It is the job of a Senator to pursue her policy preferences. In fact, it would be a dereliction of duty for her to put policy goals aside.”
“By contrast, 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,” Barrett continued. “A judge declares independence, not only from Congress and the president but also from the private beliefs that might otherwise move her. The Judicial Oath captures the essence of the judicial duty. The rule of law must always control.”
“I love the Constitution and the Democratic Republic that it establishes, and I will devote myself to preserving it,” the new Supreme Court justice said.