With Almost-Certain Outcome, Amy Coney Barrett Faces Senate Confirmation Hearings

Chloe Yang ’23

After the death of former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on September 18th of this year, Senate Republicans pushed for a new justice to be confirmed as soon as possible. In order to secure a 6-3 conservative majority in the Supreme Court, president Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to become the incoming justice. Last week, Barrett’s controversial senate confirmation hearings took place, where she answered questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee for nearly 20 hours [1].


Barrett has been a controversial justice nominee largely due to her religious affiliation. As a devout Christian, she has been accused of allowing her religious ideology to color her political beliefs. Additionally, Barrett maintains strict conservative political views, contrasting the late liberal icon Ginsburg. Others find Barrett’s judicial history lackluster, having served only two years as a law clerk and no litigation experience [2].


While the aim of the senate confirmation hearings have traditionally been to determine the eligibility of a candidate as a justice, the confirmation of Judge Barrett was almost guaranteed from the start due to the Republican majority in the Senate. Because of this, as Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham writes, “This is probably not about persuading each other unless something really dramatic happens. All Republicans will vote yes and all Democrats will vote no and that will be the way the breakout of the vote” [3]. Rather, these hearings gave the American public a chance to understand the policy and background of Judge Barrett.


The hearings did not reveal much about Barrett’s views on major political issues such as health care, voting rights, and gun control. Instead, Barrett cited a precedent known as the “Ginsburg Rule,” which states that judges should not weigh in on any issue that could come before them in a court of law. Because many of the questions asked related to public policy, Judge Barrett declined to say whether or not she believed climate change was a threat, whether she had an agenda for health care, and more. 


One of the focuses of the Senators was the Affordable Care Act, whose mandates are scheduled to come before the Supreme Court a week after the presidential election to be struck down for “unconstitutional overreach.” Previously, Barrett had attacked Chief Justice John Roberts’ decision to preserve the act in 2017. However, she explained during the hearings that she’s “not here on a mission to destroy the Affordable Care Act,” stating that she was critical of the salutary reasoning behind the act, not the legislation itself [4]. 


The questioning then moved to election result disputes. Many believe that President Trump will try to undermine the legitimacy of mail-in voting in November if he does not win, which could become a case for the Supreme Court to settle. Because of this, Democrats argue that Barrett is only being pushed into the Supreme Court to secure a favorable outcome for President Trump if he loses the electoral vote. Barrett shot back, responding that she hopes “that all members of the committee have more confidence in my integrity than to think I would allow myself to be used as a pawn to decide this election for the American people.”


Barrett has been frequently compared to current Justice Brett Kavanaugh, nominated in 2018, as liberals have attacked them as archetypes for hyper-conservative, partisan Trump nominees. However, while Kavanugh’s hearing was infamously polarized, facing sexual assault allegations and harsh witness testimonies, Barrett’s questioning remained civil from both sides. Later this month the Senate Judiciary Committee will be hearing from an outside panel or supporters and opponents of Barrett. Judge Barrett’s nomination is expected to be approved by the end of October and a full Senate vote is looking to be held the week before the November elections.


[1] https://www.npr.org/2020/10/15/923637375/takeaways-from-amy-coney-barretts-judiciary-confirmation-hearings

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/15/us/politics/senate-amy-coney-barrett-confirmation.html

[3] https://www.politico.com/news/2020/10/14/amy-coney-barrett-hearings-takeaways-429547

[4] https://thehill.com/regulation/court-battles/520779-barrett-says-shes-not-hostile-toward-affordable-care-act