In her speech honoring her nomination to the Supreme Court to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had not yet even been buried, Judge Amy Coney Barrett leaned heavily on her identity as a mother.
“Our children obviously make our life very full,” the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals judge said at the Sept. 28 Rose Garden event. “While I am a judge, I’m better known back home as a room parent, carpool driver, and birthday party planner.” The mom of seven continued to discuss at-home e-learning, becoming a de facto “co-principal,” and went on to say, “Our children are my greatest joy, even though they deprive me of any reasonable amount of sleep.”
Barrett didn’t seem to have any concern for her “greatest joy,” however, when she brought them to that crowded event sans masks or any social distancing measures in during a global pandemic that has killed more than 210,000 Americans. Her children sat behind Notre Dame University president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, who has since tested positive for COVID-19. He was not wearing a mask. Neither was the president, first lady Melania Trump, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), and former counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway—all of whom have also tested positive for the virus.
Like Barrett, the GOP has propped up her identity as a mother to make her more palatable to a public that would rather the Senate focus on passing a much-needed COVID-19 relief package than confirm a Supreme Court judge. And while a gaggle of old white men continues to weaponize a white mom with that one goal in mind—confirming Barrett at all costs, even if it means exposing more senators and Capitol Hill staffers to the virus and ignoring the more than 30 million people who’ve lost their jobs and the estimated 30 million to 40 million facing eviction—Black and brown mothers are continuing to be criminalized.
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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Black mothers have been arrested for far less than bringing their brood to a pandemic superspreading event. Kelley Williams-Bolar, a Black mom in Ohio, was sentenced to five years in jail for lying about her place of residence in order to get her two daughters into a better school.
Debra Harrell, a 46-year-old Black mom in South Carolina, was arrested for letting her child play in a nearby park while she was working.
Shanesha Taylor, a 35-year-old Black mom in Scottsdale, Arizona, was arrested for leaving her children in a car during a job interview.
Tanya McDowell, a homeless mother living in Bridgeport, Connecticut, was arrested and charged with first-degree larceny for enrolling her 5-year-old son in a neighboring school. McDowell also had prior drug charges, and a police officer who had worked on McDowell’s case told Refinery29 that he believed McDowell was “dealing drugs to support herself.”
Venaysia Schaquetta Sinclair, a 27-year-old Black mother in North Carolina, was arrested and charged with four counts of child abuse for leaving her four children home alone while she worked.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump announced that he had instructed Senate Republicans to stop negotiations on passing COVID-19 relief legislation, and instead direct all their focus on Barrett’s confirmation. Studies have shown that poverty causes crime, and crime causes poverty. One can only surmise how many mothers will, like McDowell, be forced to do whatever it takes to care for their families. Like Harrell, many working mothers will face impossible decisions to pay their rent and provide food for their families.
All because Barrett wants to be confirmed just as badly as the senators who want to confirm her.
Women—predominantly Black women—have also been arrested for having a miscarriage under the suspicion they self-induced an abortion. In 2015, 38 states could charge a person with homicide for a fetus’ death, including the person who was pregnant. And studies have shown Black, Latinx, and Indigenous peoples are more likely to miscarry than white people.
Marshae Jones, a Black woman in Alabama, was shot in the stomach by a coworker when she was pregnant. Jones lost the pregnancy, only to be charged with manslaughter for the death of the fetus because she “initiated a fight knowing she was five months pregnant.” The charges were later dropped as the result of mass public outrage.
Just last year, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed an anti-abortion law that would have given the state the right to charge women who are found to be “responsible for their own miscarriage” with murder. The law was later struck down, due in no small part to its blatant violation of Roe v. Wade.
Barrett’s confirmation puts Roe v. Wade in jeopardy, a chilling reality given that a majority of abortion patients are themselves mothers like Barrett. In 2006, Barrett signed an anti-abortion letter claiming “life begins at fertilization” and calling for the criminalization of invitro fertilization (IVF) treatments, likening the disposal of unused and frozen embryos to “manslaughter.” The same letter called for the end of Roe v. Wade, and described the ruling as “barbaric.” Should Barrett and the anti-abortion Republicans get their way, more Black and brown women will be sent to jail as a result of a pregnancy loss.
Black and brown people are not disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, but also disproportionately targeted for not wearing masks and failing to practice social distancing measures. From March 17 through May 4, New York City police arrested 40 people for violating social-distancing measures—35 were Black, four were Latinx; one was white.
Yet Barrett will face zero charges for being one of the many people who violated Washington D.C.’s ban on social gatherings of 50 or more people when she attended her nomination party. She will not be charged with child endangerment for bringing her children to an event that exposed them to COVID-19. She did not have to make the impossible decision of either leaving her children alone or going to work if she is confirmed to the highest court in the land.
Instead, Barrett’s identity as a mother will continue to be used as a political chess piece so Republicans can make their anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ, anti-access to affordable health care the law of the land. And more Black and brown mothers will end up in jail because of it.