Amy Coney Barrett sworn in as Supreme Court justice

A mere month after her nomination by Trump, Barrett joined the Supreme Court in an evening ceremony

Published October 26, 2020 10:37PM (EDT)

Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the third day of her confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on October 14, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)
Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the third day of her confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on October 14, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)

In an outdoor ceremony at the White House held Monday night, Amy Coney Barrett was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice by Justice Clarence Thomas.

At the ceremony, President Trump called her credentials "impeccable ... unquestioned, unchallenged, and obvious to all."

"Justice Barrett made clear she will issue rulings based solely upon a faithful reading of the law and the Constitution as written, not legislate from the bench," Trump said, according to CNN. 

On Sunday, Senate Republicans voted to advance Barrett to confirmation, a vote which passed 51-48. Two Republicans voted against advancing Barrett, and Senator Kamala Harris, D-Calif., missed the vote, AP reports

Barrett's entry to the country's highest court cements a 6-3 majority of right-leaning justices on the bench, a situation which many analysts believe could lead to the undoing of hallmark civil rights and progressive legislation — including many tenets of the New Deal, Roe v. Wade, the Affordable Care Act, and numerous labor laws. Previously in 2013, under a 5-4 majority conservative court, the Supreme Court gutted the 1965 Voting Rights act, which had the effect of shuttering polling places and increasing voter suppression efforts, as former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich writes.

Congressional Republicans rushed Barrett through the nomination process, belying their previous promises regarding not appointing justices during an election year. In February 2016, after Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that a vote on Supreme Court justice should not be held during an election year, and blocked President Obama's nominee Merrick Garland from a vote. In September, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, likewise expressed that a justice should not be voted on before the November election; yet she changed her mind last week. 

The 48-year-old Barrett, who was previously a judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals for three years, is viewed by Republicans as a reliable far-right voice on the court. As Salon's Amanda Marcotte wrote, Barrett's legal record reveals an opposition to the Affordable Care Act, a "desire to end legal abortion and strip women of contraception access," and an "association with anti-LGBTQ groups." 

Barrett stated during her Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that she had no "firm views" on the climate crisis, suggesting she misunderstands or denies scientific consensus on the issue.

Mother Jones reporter Stephanie Mencimer noted that Barrett would be the least experienced Supreme Court nominee in thirty years, speculating that her "limited CV" may have been a boon to Senate Republicans hoping her resume would provoke little in the way of objections by virtue of its paucity. That turned out not to be the case: the public and the media fixated on a verdict she rendered in 2018, when she and three judges on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against a pregnant inmate who was repeatedly raped by a jail guard, overturning a previous verdict which had found the county liable for $6.7 million in damages to the woman. As Salon's Igor Derysh wrote

Barrett joined Judges Daniel Manion and Robert Gettleman in reversing the district court ruling against the county [....] Mannion wrote in the unanimous opinion that the county was not responsible for the guard's conduct.

"Conduct is not in the scope if it is different in kind from that authorized, far beyond the authorized time or space, or too little actuated by a purpose to serve the employer," he said.

"Even when viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to (the woman) and the verdict, we hold no reasonable jury could find the sexual assaults were in the scope of his (Thicklen's) employment," the opinion stated. "The evidence negates the verdict."

Manion noted that the training materials stated guards were prohibited from having sex with inmates. 

Barrett's relatively young age compared to other justices, and the lifetime nature of the appointment, means that she may serve for three decades or more. 

Pundits were quick to point out the implications of Barrett's confirmation. 

"There goes my uterus," activist Sema Hernandez lamented upon hearing the news.

"When Barrett joins the court, five of the nine justices will have been appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote," Robert Reich wrote on Twitter. "The Republican senators who will vote for her represent 15 million fewer Americans than their Democratic colleagues. How is this representative government?"

The dissonance between the composition of the Supreme Court and the American political zeitgeist has led many politicians and activists to call for an expansion of the number of justices on the Supreme Court. While Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has been reticent to pledge to "pack the court," prominent liberal and progressive voices have spoken strongly about the prospect. 

"If Democrats win and don't expand the court, then the fight against climate change is probably over," former Salon columnist and Bernie Sanders campaign advisor David Sirota wrote on Twitter. "If Beltway Dem[ocratic] lawmakers, staffers, think tankers, pundits and advocacy groups ignore this truth, our future is doomed. It's that simple."

"Anytime you hear a Democratic senator trying to downplay a court expansion plan because of some bulls**t notion of manners or norms, you should realize they are basically saying they are cool with you and your children being incinerated in a fire tornado," Sirota continued.

The dying wish of the justice whom Barrett replaced, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was that her Supreme Court seat not be filled before the next president was elected. Ginsburg died on September 18, 2020.

By Keith A. Spencer

Keith A. Spencer is a social critic and author. Previously a senior editor at Salon, he writes about capitalism, science, labor and culture, and published a book about how Silicon Valley is destroying the world. Keep up with his writing on TwitterFacebook, or Substack.

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