With the Senate Judiciary Committee set to vote Thursday on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation, we asked UI Law Professor JASON MAZZONE what he’s found most revealing about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s potential successor during the process up to now.
NOT THE PRESIDENT’S PAWN
President Donald Trump has said that it is important to have a nine-member Supreme Court in time to decide any disputes that arise out of the 2020 election. Democrats have interpreted that to mean that in a Trump v. Biden election case, Amy Coney Barrett will help Trump secure a second term.
Most court watchers recognize that presidents who expect the justices they appoint to favor them in cases before the Supreme Court usually end up disappointed. At her confirmation hearing, Barrett repeatedly made the point that if confirmed to the Court, she will not be there to do President Trump’s bidding.
She said: “I certainly hope 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.”
SHE’S NOT SCALIA, EITHER
Barrett has said that her judicial philosophy is that of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom she served as a law clerk. In particular, like Scalia, Barrett identifies as an originalist who understands the meaning of constitutional provisions as at the time they were ratified.
Some observers have portrayed Barrett as a Scalia clone. The confirmation hearing showed she is not. She repeatedly made the point that in interpreting the Constitution and applying its provisions to issues today she would not necessarily reach the same results as would Scalia.
“You’d be getting Justice Barrett, not Justice Scalia,” she said.
INSIGHTS ON RACIAL JUSTICE
Many questions at the hearing involved issues of race and race discrimination. On these issues, Barrett spoke in quite personal terms.
She and her husband have seven children, two adopted from Haiti. Barrett said it is “an entirely uncontroversial and obvious statement that racism persists in our country.” Asked about the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, she said the incident was “very, very personal” for her family and that when the Floyd video footage was publicized, she and her 17-year-old Haitian-born daughter “wept together in my room.”
Barrett’s comments highlighted her unusual position in this process: No members of the Judiciary Committee conducting the hearing and no members of the full Senate that will vote on Barrett’s nomination have Black children of their own.
A SENSE OF DUTY
Some people spend their adult lives auditioning for a seat on the Supreme Court. Barrett is clearly not in that category.
She emphasized her commitment to balancing her career with other priorities: “I never let the law crowd out the rest of my life.” Asked how she felt about being nominated, rather than tout her credentials or the contributions she could make as a justice or even express excitement, Barrett spoke of service.
“I’m not the only person who could do this job,” she said, “but I was asked, and it would be difficult for anyone. So why should I say someone else should do the difficulty? If the difficulty is the only reason to say no, I should serve my country.”