By Faith Quigley
Next week in Washington D.C., newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett will sit on the bench in a hearing that could end the Affordable Care Act (ACA), potentially leaving millions of Americans without health care. This is one of several pieces of legislation that may be on the line with a cemented 6-3 conservative majority on the court.
Following her nomination and judiciary hearings, Barrett and the Republican members of the senate, particularly majority leader Senator Mitch McConnell, received backlash about the speed at which they worked to confirm her before the November 3rd general election.
Leading up to Barrett’s debut in the court, here’s how some in the USF community are thinking about her confirmation.
Brian Weiner, a USF politics professor, said in an email,“In terms of how I am feeling, I’d say exasperated, angry at the Republican Senators’ hypocrisy (particularly McConnell) but sadly, not surprised.” By “hypocrisy,” he was referring to Republican senators’ refusal to hold hearings for Merrick Garland, former President Barack Obama’s 2016 nomination for the court following the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia. Led by McConnell, Republicans held the seat open for several months until a Republican president was elected. That seat was filled by Trump’s nominee Neil Gorsuch.
“You have to hand it to the Republicans: they get it. The Supreme Court matters. A lot,” USF School of Law professor Julie Nice said in anemail. “Selecting Amy Coney Barrett simply fits the pre-Trump GOP pattern of selecting persons who have key conservative credentials.” She argued that Democrats have failed to educate voters on the importance of controlling federal and Supreme Court nominations that has now secured several conservatives to lifetime appointments.
Kamy Heyman, a senior studying politics and gender and sexuality, is concerned not only for the ACA case, but also for the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade—which President Donald Trump has assured is a possibility. “I am concerned that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v Wade in the name of ‘pro-life’, but nothing they or ACB has done or supported is truly pro-life. They are anti-choice and pro-controlling bodies,” Heyman said. “I am concerned she will use her power to oppress marginalized women.”
Barrett will not only be the sixth conservative judge on the current court, but she will also be one of six Catholic judges, including justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, Sonia Sotomayor, and Chief Justice John Roberts. Gorsuch, who was raised Roman Catholic, is a member of an Episcopalian church.
The week of Barrett’s confirmation vote, the National Catholic Reporter, a leading Catholic news organization, published an editorial calling for the rejection of Barrett’s nomination by the Senate,citing as reason, the hypocrisy of the situation and her “extreme moral relativism” among others. “Their [NCR’s] editorial reflects a real division in the church,” said Jorge Aquino, a religious studies professor. According to Aquino, this division seems to be growing as Pope Francis repeatedly challenges many traditional tenets of conservative Catholicism– and in turn has many calling for his removal from the papacy.
“Religion itself should have no place on the court,” Aquino said. “Religious liberty is becoming a trojan horse for discriminatory behavior that is otherwise against law.” He is also concerned with Barrett’s corporate agenda, and laws regarding labor rights and voting rights—in addition to issues of cultural conservatism like Roe v Wade.
Tamara Kneese, a professor in media studies and gender and sexuality studies, shared similar concerns. “Coney Barrett seeks to expand protections for religious beliefs at the expense of civil rights,” Kneese said. She also referenced Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg whose death in September opened up the seat on the court. “RBG did so much to advance women’s rights in the United States even before she was on the Supreme Court, pushing back against gender-based discrimination with the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project,” Kneese said in an email. “Coney Barrett, by contrast, has spoken about the joy she derives from submitting to her husband.”
Professor Erin Brigham of the Lane Center for Catholic Social Thought at USF argues that one can use Catholic social teaching to inform decisions without playing into polarizing political culture. “For many people, religion has an important role in shaping their guiding values and I think people should draw upon their faith traditions to speak out against injustices,” Brigham said in an email, “I also think the common good requires that religious and non-religious people communicate their values in a way that seeks mutual understanding through dialogue.”
During next week’s hearings, which will be conducted over the phone due to Covid-19 public health regulations, each judge will receive an allotted amount of time for questioning, although Weiner noted that usually new justices do not play a very active role in direct questioning. “We will get an early sense of Coney Barrett’s approach to the law, and just how much of an ‘originalist’ she is,” Weiner said, referring to Barrett’s self-identification with “originalism”– a way of interpreting the constitution as it would have been in its time of publication.
On a more hopeful note, USF School of Law professor Nice closed her email saying, “Don’t believe those who wish you would remain unengaged and cynical. ’We the people’ really do influence the parties and the politicians. In doing so, we shape how the Court interprets the Constitution.”