Judge Amy Coney Barrett is impressive. She is intelligent, articulate, confident and poised, and performed well in her public testimony over several days of lengthy proceedings last week before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. Barrett has served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit for the past three years. She has outstanding credentials, and is President Donald Trump’s nominee to fill the U.S. Supreme Court seat held by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her nomination, hearing and anticipated Senate vote have been rushed by the administration and its Republican allies in an effort to seat Trump’s third Supreme Court pick before next month’s election.
In an unusual year marked by the chaos of the coronavirus and the heightened political posturing prompted by the impending national election, the Barrett nomination process stands out as a naked power move by politicians in a position to effect their will. And they have every right to do so.
But it was the political reality of the Barrett hearings, and the opposition’s recognition that Republicans have the votes to elevate Barrett, that resulted in actual “questioning” at the hearing to be very limited. Instead, most of the time was spent by senators (on both sides) making speeches and pandering to their base, only asking questions designed to underline a particular political point. Not surprisingly, Barrett refused to take the bait. She was disciplined in her responses, yet polite and unemotional in the face of repeated challenges and attempted provocation.
There’s a lot at stake. As another staunchly conservative justice on the Court, Barrett could pull decisions away from the 5-4 seesaw of recent decades and set it firmly on the conservative side. Democrats fear that could spell the end of the Affordable Care Act and return abortion rights to the whim of state government, where they were half a century ago.
Politics aside, there were revelatory moments during the hearings. On the second day, Barrett spent hours testifying — citing cases, and quoting from them — without using notes. Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas mentioned a small notepad Barrett had in front of her, and said: “You know, most of us have multiple notebooks and notes and books and things like that in front of us. Can you hold up what you’ve been referring to in answering our questions?” In response, Barrett smiled and lifted up and displayed a blank notepad. “That’s impressive,” Cornyn said. And it was.
Barrett is not a product of Ivy League schools or the Eastern establishment. She is devoutly religious. She favors an originalist, textualist approach to statutory and constitutional interpretation. All of that makes liberals uncomfortable. But Barrett will almost certainly be confirmed as the next justice on the Supreme Court. She has the necessary qualifications, and displayed the proper temperament for the job. We wish her well, and hope that she will bring balance, care and compassion to her new position.