Amy Coney Barrett is officially a Supreme Court justice.
She replaces the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a trailblazer who fought for gender equality and other human rights. But Barrett is here to stay with her lifetime appointment.
Here are seven things you should know about Amy Coney Barrett.
Barrett is the fifth woman to sit on the bench
She’s also the third woman nominated by a Republican president. Sandra Day O’Connor made history as the first female Supreme Court justice in 1981. Nominated by President Ronald Reagan, she was generally a conservative justice but voted in favor of abortion access through her career (possibly why you don’t see conservatives these days name-dropping her too often).
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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Since O’Connor’s nomination, only four other women have been nominated to the bench before Barrett: the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, nominated by Bill Clinton; Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, both nominated by Barack Obama; and Harriet Miers, who was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2005 to replace O’Connor but withdrew her nomination after both Democrats and Republicans objected to her lack of experience. (Bush ended up nominating Samuel Alito instead.)
But make no mistake—Barrett being a woman (and a mother, as it’s been emphasized) is not the win for gender equality that conservatives would like you to think. There’s nothing feminist or progressive about someone who will gut the rights of other women and of marginalized communities. Nothing to celebrate about that.
She gives the Court a conservative supermajority
The Court has been in a long swing to the right ever since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016. Prior to Ginsburg’s death, the Court had four liberal-leaning justices—Sotomayor, Ginsburg, Kagan, and Stephen Breyer—and four who leaned conservative—Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas. Chief Justice Roberts is a conservative who sometimes sides with his liberal colleagues in procedural matters.
Ginsburg’s death allowed President Trump to place a third—a third—hardline conservative justice on the Court, making the bench overwhelmingly conservative. Just how much this changes the course of the law we’ll soon see.
The big cases slated to be heard soon won’t actually be decided for a while
You might be hearing a lot about some big cases coming down the pipeline for the Court, like the one that will decide if the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and the one deciding whether government agencies can discriminate against LGBTQ families.
And while it’s true these cases are going to be heard shortly, we won’t have decisions until early next summer. So sit tight, folks, it’s gonna be a long ride.
Barrett is going to be on the court for a long time
Supreme Court justices are given lifetime appointments, which means they’re on the Court until they retire or die, basically. Barrett is 48, making her the youngest justice on the bench, which means we’ll be dealing with her and the impacts of her decisions for decades.
She invoked the Ginsburg rule at her hearing
Despite this, we already have a pretty good idea of how she’ll rule in some cases.
At her confirmation hearing, Barrett repeatedly (and rather annoyingly!) refused to answer any questions about how she might rule on issues like same-sex marriage and abortion, citing a rule Ginsburg started: that a potential justice should not indicate how they might approach an issue that could potentially come before the Curt.
But Barrett doesn’t really need to tell us how she’d rule on a lot of these issues because she has a longstanding history of speaking out against abortion rights and handing down rulings that roll back equality and justice for marginalized communities.
The battle over her nomination is just beginning
Barrett might be on the Court now, but Senate Democrats like Cory Booker, Dick Durbin, and Sheldon Whitehouse have made it clear this fight is far from over. Top Democrats like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer won’t even defend Sen. Dianne Feinstein from calls to remove her as the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee after she spent the entire hearing coddling Barrett and refusing to put up any real fight.
Many on the left are also pushing for legislators to expand the courts—to add justices not only to the Supreme Court but also to the federal and lower courts to help offset four years of Trump judges. Expect to see court reform as a major political talking point in 2021.
Senate Republicans cheated to win
Does the name Merrick Garland ring a bell?
When Scalia died suddenly in 2016, Obama chose the center-left judge to fill his seat in what should have been a relatively straightforward process. But if you remember correctly, McConnell, Sen. Lindsey Graham, and their army of conservative cretins blocked the nomination process by arguing that Obama shouldn’t be allowed to put a justice on the Court that close to the election.
Well, things are clearly different now—but it’s even worse.
Last week, when the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced Barrett’s nomination, it did so over the objections of Democrats who had boycotted the hearing. Normally that boycott would have blocked the vote because Senate committee rules say that at least a couple members from the minority party need to be present to conduct business. Well, guess what? Graham changed the rules so the vote could happen anyway.