It’s hard to believe that the Republicans won the US Senate majority only in 2014. It seems like we’ve suffered much longer with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell obstructing President Obama and then enabling Donald Trump. Since 2017, the Trump administration has managed to pack the courts all the way up to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) led by scheming and pressure from McConnell. The worst example of ramming a nomination through was the record fast confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, a.k.a. Amy Covid Barrett. Not only is Barrett the anti-thesis of our beloved Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG). Barrett is the first Supreme Court nomination with zero support from the minority party – all Democratic senators voted no (against nominee Barrett) for the first time in 151 years. This 52-48 (majority/minority) vote was the closest high court confirmation ever to a presidential election. Here is a look at some of the judicial and legislative damage – first McConnell and packing of the courts, then Amy Covid Barrett.
McConnell became Senate majority leader in 2014, after the GOP won the Senate majority. As Senate majority leader, he focused even more on thwarting Obama’s judicial nominees. This obstruction lasted the last 2 years of Obama’s second term. When Justice Antonin Scalia passed away on Feb 13, 2016, 9 months before the national election, McConnell made up a story – saying it was too close to the election and the American people needed to have a say in the next supreme court justice by choosing a new president to nominate a new justice. Never mind how well qualified and actually how moderate Chief Judge Merrick Garland is.
The NC Senators snubbed and blocked Judge Garland as well – neither NC Senator – Richard Burr nor Thom Tillis would even meet with Judge Garland. Burr further belied this claim of waiting for the next president. Burr threatened to thwart the nominee if Hillary Clinton became president and made her own #SCOTUS nomination, regardless of who it was. Burr had a history of obstruction in NC – Burr had been stonewalling other federal judicial nominees in NC for years preventing them from filling what became an emergency vacancy in the eastern federal district – all nominees for this position were women of color.
McConnell relishes his role in obstructing progressive policies to improve people’s lives. McConnell actually “calls himself the Grim Reaper — the one who holds the scythe leading to the chamber where the desires of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s House majority go to die.” On August 27, US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted that McConnell has buried more than 400 bills from the House.
Since 2017, the Trump administration has managed to pack the courts all the way up to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) with the gleeful cooperation of #MoscowMitch McConnell. According to “Want to Know About Court Packing Ask Mitch McConnell, ” 10/13/20, Washington Post,
“Because Republicans choked off confirmations under Obama, Trump “inherited” 103 vacancies, notes a 2020 Brookings study. As of Oct. 6, 2020, according to the American Constitution Society, 218 judges have been confirmed, more than Trump’s Republican predecessors and second to Democratic President Jimmy Carter. The average age of Trump’s appointees to courts of appeals, considered the farm team for the Supreme Court, is 48.2 years.”
The Trump Administration has seated 3 extremely conservative people to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) – Neil Gorsuch in 2017, Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, and they just rammed Barrett through in 6 weeks in 2020, while the national election was in progress. Judge Barrett has shown an extremely conservative voting record in cases related to abortion, voting rights, LGBTQ rights, health care, and immigration. She would move the court firmly to the right, and clearly threatens the right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade. She also strongly threatens the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In 2017, she wrote an article for a journal of Notre Dame Law School criticizing John Roberts and arguing against the 5-4 Supreme Court ruling by upholding the ACA. Barrett strongly fights issues important to RBG, who fought to protect and expand gender equality and civil rights even before reaching the Supreme Court.
As for timing of her confirmation, health care is at risk immediately. SCOTUS is scheduled to hear arguments on Tuesday, Nov. 10, in a case that could abolish the ACA/Obamacare and cause between 23-26 million people to lose their health care, and also hurting some 125 million people with pre-existing conditions.This case is looking at the constitutionality of the ACA’s individual mandate.
Barrett is the first SCOTUS nomination on whom all Democratic senators voted no for the first time in 151 years. One Republican voted against her – Susan Collins. Many say inappropriateness with her nomination and confirmation has damaged the reputation of the Supreme Court. Certainly her confirmation will be remembered for 2 events around it – celebration party of nomination of Amy Coney Barrett in the Rose Garden which later became known as a coronavirus superspreader event with more than 150 people on September 26 and a campaign style celebration event immediately following her confirmation on Oct 26. According to Professor Heather Cox Richardson on Oct. 26, Trump released a video of the celebration starring Barrett that was effectively a campaign commercial for him. The professor wrote,
“Shortly after the ceremony, Trump released a video of the event with Barrett walking alongside him through the doors of the White House onto a balcony where the two stood for the crowd. It was a triumphant demonstration of Trump’s power, and undermined the illusion that Barrett will be a nonpartisan judge. Traditionally in America, Supreme Court justices keep a distance from political leaders, yet she has just appeared in a campaign commercial for the president.”
After the confirmation in October, McConnell shut down the Senate until Monday, Nov 9. That means this confirmation was forced through during a raging pandemic, and legislation to deal with supporting Americans dealing with the pandemic were shoved aside (the coronavirus relief bill).
Some other upcoming cases this session involving Trump are on immigration policies, same-sex couples’ rights, and the census. This confirmation was forced through during a raging pandemic, and legislation to deal with supporting Americans dealing with the pandemic were shoved aside (the coronavirus relief bill). Speculation is this ACA case and the unprecedented abuse of raw power by a Republican majority Senate forcing a third SCOTUS nomination through (exciting Republican voters) are some reasons the president and Senate Republicans rushed through her confirmation.
It is significant but not equal to replace RBG with such a conservative woman. An article out of North Carolina explains how Judge Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court is not a win for working mothers. The policies Judge Barrett and her supporters push actually mean only very few mothers can get this kind of career advancement. Stereotypes, elitism at work in conservative praise for “working mom” Barrett,” 10/26/20, points out,
“The real insult, however, is in how insincere this praise and support are for working mothers beyond Judge Barrett. The bitter reality is that many in our society – from lawmakers to community leaders to members of the media – promote policies and narratives that reinforce rigid gender stereotypes and are more likely to punish mothers who work outside of the home, especially if they are low-income, women of color, or part of the LGBTQ community.”
There are a few ways forward to balancing the Supreme Court, but until President-elect Biden is inaugurated and a majority in Congress sees the need, we are stuck in a bad position with a very lopsided court (6 conservatives to 3 liberals). The loss of RBG is extremely painful for multiple reasons, including how well respected and loved she was, and this major imbalance in the court. Getting progressive candidates into the Senate through the runoff election on Jan 5 in Georgia would greatly speed up this process and make undoing at least some of the damage introduced by the Trump administration easier.
Sources (in chronological order):
- “The 8 Best Lines From Ginsburg’s Dissent on the Hobby Lobby Contraception Decision,” 6/30/14, https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/06/best-lines-hobby-lobby-decision/
- “Senators Burr and Tillis and the Politics of Obstruction,” 5/18/16, https://northcarolinanow.wordpress.com/2016/05/18/senators-burr-and-tillis-and-the-politics-of-obstruction/
- “Would Blocking Supreme Court Justices unleash constitutional confusion?,” 11/1/16, Charlotte Observer, at https://www.charlotteobserver.com/article111869572.html
- “Judge Barrett’s writing criticizes the Supreme Court decision upholding Obama-era health law,” 9/28/20, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/judge-barrett-aca-health-care-law/2020/09/28/429d165e-ff4c-11ea-b555-4d71a9254f4b_story.html
- “White House Is Not Tracing Contacts for ‘Super-Spreader’ Rose Garden Event,” 10/5/20, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/05/health/contact-tracing-white-house.html
- “High stakes in Supreme Court battle demand that the American people have a say,” 10/6/20, http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2020/10/06/high-stakes-in-supreme-court-battle-demand-that-the-american-people-have-a-say/
- Republicans have no standing to complain about court-packing, 10/9/20, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/republicans-have-no-standing-to-complain-about-court-packing/2020/10/09/ab4befaa-0a4f-11eb-859b-f9c27abe638d_story.html
- “Barrett was member of anti-abortion group that promoted clinic criticized for misleading women,” 10/11/20, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/oct/11/amy-coney-barrett-member-right-to-life-organization
- “Want to know all about ‘court-packing’? Ask Mitch McConnell.” 10/13/20, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/10/13/want-know-all-about-court-packing-ask-mitch-mcconnell/
- “Amy Coney Barrett,” 10/15/20, http://richmondfreepress.com/news/2020/oct/15/amy-coney-barrett/
- “Why Amy Coney Barrett got a ‘well qualified’ rating from ABA standing committee,” 10/15/20, https://www.abajournal.com/news/article/why-amy-coney-barrett-got-a-well-qualified-rating-from-aba-standing-committee
- “Its Up To John Roberts To Save His Court, ” 10/26/20, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/10/26/its-up-john-roberts-save-his-court/
- “Stereotypes, elitism at work in conservative praise for “working mom” Barrett,” 10/26/20, http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2020/10/26/stereotypes-elitism-at-work-in-conservative-praise-for-working-mom-barrett/ – Charnessa’s.
- Barrett’s Appointment to Supreme Court Breaks Norms and Generates Outrage, 10/27/20, https://feminist.org/news/barretts-appointment-to-supreme-court-breaks-norms-and-generates-outrage/
- “Amy Coney Barrett sworn in as newest Supreme Court justice,” 10/27/20, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/amy-coney-barrett-supreme-court-justice-sworn-in/
- Daily review of previous day being 10/26/20, by Professor Heather Cox Richardson, 10/27/20, https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/p/october-26-2020
- “Barrett’s Appointment to Supreme Court Breaks Norms and Generates Outrage,” 10/27/20, https://feminist.org/news/barretts-appointment-to-supreme-court-breaks-norms-and-generates-outrage/
- “Barrett’s Record: A Conservative Who Would Push the Supreme Court to the Right,” 11/2/20, https://www.nytimes.com/article/amy-barrett-views-issues.html