Amy Coney Barrett’s Confirmation—Aim to Bear It?

Amy Coney Barrett’s recent confirmation has sparked national outrage. So how do Stuyvesant students feel about it?

Reading Time: 6 minutes

When Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a revered feminist icon and champion of justice, died on September 18 from pancreatic cancer just a few weeks before Election Day, chaos erupted across the country. Defying political precedent, Republicans seized the opportunity to install another conservative-leaning justice on the Supreme Court: Amy Coney Barrett (ACB). Barrett’s Catholic faith, conservative ideals, and overall background made her the perfect fit for Republicans and angered Democrats. While Barrett has found support among staunch right-wing Americans, many others have objected to her confirmation just eight days before election day, finding the confirmation process and the candidate herself to be a betrayal of democratic ideals.

For history teacher David Hanna, it is not Barrett’s devout Catholic faith or political experience (or lack thereof, as proclaimed by many Democratic leaders) that is so troubling—it is the circumstances of her confirmation. David Hanna cited the precedent established after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February of 2016, eight months before the presidential election. He explained in an e-mail interview: “Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell blocked President Obama's appointee, [Merrick] Garland, from getting a confirmation hearing. He's widely respected and almost certainly would've received some bipartisan support. What McConnell did was unconstitutional and had no precedent in U.S. history.” David Hanna elaborated, “[McConnell’s] argument then was that in an election year, the voters should decide who would appoint someone to fill that vacancy. This fall, with only one month to go before an election, he did a full 180-degree turn and said President Trump's appointee should be confirmed. This is the height of hypocrisy.” He went on to clarify his stance about Barrett herself: “For me, the problem is not her; it is what McConnell did.”

Sophomore Ameer Alnasser seconded this idea: “Amy Coney Barrett represents our failures [in] politics. Everything is maneuvered to help the conservatives: the gerrymandering, electoral college, voter suppression […] I believe ACB's views will give conservatives more room to become more partisan than they already are.”

Junior Anika Amin is particularly troubled by the double standard between the prospective appointments of Garland and Barrett. “It's ridiculous that the Republicans completely went against their OWN precedent and didn't let the next president appoint the justice for the vacant seat,” she said in an e-mail interview. Amin finds the enormous political ramifications of Barrett’s confirmation concerning as well: “The fact that the fate of our country and so many important legal protections are under threat due to the appointment of ONE person really just goes to show how badly structured and outdated the institution of the Supreme Court is.” For Amin, these legal protections include the right to abortion, a subject which has been at the forefront of this battle for the Supreme Court. Though Justice Barrett has not explicitly stated her views on abortion and, during her confirmation hearings, adhered to the “Ginsburg Rule,” her previous rulings and Catholic faith have led many to assume that she does not support abortion and that she may, along with her fellow conservative justices, try to overturn Roe v. Wade. Though Amin doubts the landmark Roe v. Wade will be overturned because of its strong legal precedent, she believes Barrett’s controversial views have larger implications. “Abortion rights are so much more than simply the right to an abortion or not—they represent an issue with health care and the right to autonomy for so many women and other people,” she said.

Amin’s stance on abortion rights is not shared by all, however. In fact, for the far right, it is actually Barrett’s views on abortion that have garnered so much support. Pro-lifers, who argue that life begins at conception and that aborting a child is murder, find Barrett’s faith and conservative values to be the embodiment of Republican ideals and the perfect replacement for a judge known by many as a champion of abortion rights. An anonymous student (referred to as Anonymous) disclosed their views on abortion in an e-mail interview: “Abortion is not a human right or a necessity but a privilege. Nowhere in the stems of morality is it justified to take the life of a baby, especially [one with a beating heart], for the inconvenience and the decisions of the mother (with few exceptions).”

It is not just Barrett’s views on abortion that have gained her so much support. For many, it is her shining success in a legal world still dominated by men and her ability to raise a family at the same time that is so impressive. Anonymous explained that Barrett’s confirmation not only empowered them as a conservative but ought to empower all women in America. “I am also quite confused [about] why ‘feminists’ don’t feel the same. If it was about women supporting and empowering other women, then [Barrett] is the pinnacle example of success in the United States. She has an undeniable record, [is] an outstanding academic, and [is] a mother of an unbelievable seven children,” Anonymous said.

Junior Silvia Hanna seconded the views of Anonymous, saying, “To me, Justice Amy Coney Barrett is a prime example of female empowerment […] One of the main reasons many women feel desperate to get an abortion, for example, is because they feel like becoming a mother will be a stumbling block in their education and success, but Justice Amy Coney Barrett offers huge encouragement for mothers and expecting mothers in this nation.” This empowerment and encouragement have had a tangible impact on Silvia Hanna’s own life as well: “At one point, I myself [had] vowed not to marry or have children out of the same fear: if I have a family of my own, I won’t be able to chase my dreams and accomplish the goals I desire to achieve.” She continued, “Justice Barrett’s confirmation has completely changed my perspective and has liberated me of this fear. She is the pride of women everywhere and destroys many stereotypes about women’s role in society and the family.”

Despite Silvia Hanna and Anonymous’s claims that Justice Barrett empowers women and stands for the right to life, Barrett has also been the subject of criticism, much of which revolves around her Catholic faith and time spent with The People of Praise, an insular and deeply religious conservative Catholic community which rejects openly gay men and women and embraces traditional gender norms. Democrats find her close ties to Catholicism alarming, especially since Supreme Court judges are supposed to adhere to the idea that church and state should remain separate.

Junior Olivia Tedesco is worried by Barrett’s potential blurring of the boundaries between church and state. “Amy Coney Barrett pushes her own religious ideals into her government practices and infringes on people’s freedom to determine their own principles on their religion or lack thereof,” she said in an e-mail interview.

But to Silvia Hanna, it is discriminatory to object to somebody’s holding public office on the basis of religion. She elaborated on the intersection between justice and faith: “Every judge and [j]ustice has their own beliefs and moral values; it would be completely unnatural not to. However, when someone becomes a judge, they are not required to abandon any beliefs and values they have but rather set them aside and put the Constitution above all else in the context of the courtroom.”

An anonymous freshman agreed. “I think that her religion, although possibly influencing her interpretation of the [C]onstitution, will not fully take over her rulings. As we see with judges like Roberts, the court often centralizes and depolarizes justices, moving them [toward] the center,” they said. They continued on to voice their opinion on key principles governing American democracy: “On separation of church and state, I feel like this is a key pillar of our democracy, but [it] cannot be, like most things, taken to the extreme, and Amy Coney Barrett is able to deliver this balance.”

Justice Barrett’s views and faith aside, there are larger factors at play here. Barrett’s confirmation means that the Republicans now hold a 6-3 majority in the court, something which could impact the results of the election should there fail to be a peaceful transfer of power.

Right now, nobody can know for sure what impact Barrett’s appointment will have on the judicial system and America as a whole. Some worry that Barrett will intervene on the side of Trump if he chooses to contest the election on the basis of “voter fraud” before January 20. Some worry that she will upend Roe v. Wade. But David Hanna reminds us that, right now, all of this is just speculation. “But these are hypotheticals,” he said. “And people can surprise you. When Earl Warren was appointed Chief Justice by President Eisenhower, he thought he was getting a reliably center-right guy, and then Warren proceeded to preside over one of the most progressive Courts in American history. So who knows?”