It’s been about a month since Judge Amy Coney Barrett was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Trump, and two weeks since her hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee began.
Barrett has carried herself with grace and strength throughout this month-long process. At her hearings, Barrett displayed those qualities in full force. She also demonstrated exceptional legal knowledge and expertise–and, in what quickly became an iconic meme, an impressive memory.
But Barrett, of course, has not been free of scrutiny and, frankly, baseless attacks. The New Yorker ran an article entitled “Amy Coney Barrett’s Silence Is an Expression of Extremism” (a reference to her adherence to the “Ginsburg Rule” throughout the hearings). Senator Kamala Harris said that “[Justice] Ginsburg’s legacy is in jeopardy” with the nomination of Barrett to her vacated seat. Others have invoked imagery from The Handmaid’s Tale in protests outside the Supreme Court to evidence their fear that Barrett’s confirmation would mean a dismantling of women’s rights. More gruesome comments about Barrett’s family have risen over the last month, as well, but we won’t dignify those by including them here.
All of these attacks are, by and large, unfounded. Barrett is as much of a “strong and independent woman” as feminists could hope for, and as independent-minded a jurist as is needed for the Court. Her hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee were a testament to this.
Barrett, like the nominees before her, operated by what has become known as the “Ginsburg Rule” when asked about how she might weigh on cases that come before the court: “No hints, no previews, no forecasts.” She also adhered to this rule when asked to “grade” past cases that have come before the Court, and frequently referred to Justice Kagan, who said in her own hearing: “I think that in particular it would not be appropriate for me to talk about what I think about past cases, you know, to grade cases, because those cases themselves might again come before the Court.”
Those who oppose her nomination railed against her failure to outline to the letter her opinion on issues ranging from the Affordable Care Act to abortion to election disputes. They claimed her silence signaled solidarity with right-leaning opinions previously made by the Court, or opinions that right-leaning justices are expected to hold. They also claimed more than a few times that her clerkship under Justice Scalia and her nomination by President Trump dictated exactly where she stood on the issues, past and present.
In some more bizarre accusations, Democratic senators asserted that her philosophy of originalism was a “smokescreen” for judicial activism. In an exchange that even confused Barrett, Senator Klobuchar asked Barrett if it was a “coincidence” that she was chosen as the nominee, since she briefly worked on Bush v. Gore in 2000.
But Barrett dismantled each of those accusations–repeatedly.
Barrett’s reply to Klobuchar’s question was, honestly, what most of us were thinking: “Senator Klobuchar, if you’re asking me whether I was nominated for this seat because I worked on Bush versus Gore for a very brief period of time as a young associate, that doesn’t make sense to me.”
To Senator Leahy, who mentioned the possibility of Barrett coming into the Court with a goal to strike down Roe v. Wade (in light of President Trump’s pro-life policies), she explained: “Let me be clear: I made no commitment to anyone–not in this Senate, not over in the White House–about how I would decide any case.”
To Senator Graham, who gave Barrett the chance to directly respond to accusations from his colleagues about her “agenda”, Barrett said: “Judges can’t just wake up one day and say I have an agenda. I like guns. I hate guns. Or I like abortion. I hate abortion. And walk in like a royal queen and impose their will on the world.”
And on another occasion, she addressed directly the concern Democratic senators belabored about the possibility of her nixing Obamacare: “I’m not here on a mission to destroy the Affordable Care Act. I’m just here to apply the law and adhere to the rule of law.”
At one point, Senator Coons raised questions about her relationship with the late Justice Scalia and implied that his views were exactly hers. In one of my favorite moments, she took down that argument with a few short words: “I hope you aren’t suggesting that I don’t have my own mind, or that I couldn’t think independently,” she told the Senator, then restated, “I assure you, I have my own mind.”
She made that very clear throughout the hearing. Barrett–maybe even to the dismay of some Republicans–will not come in with the goal of striking down the entire ACA. She won’t come to the bench hell-bent on reversing Roe. She is not subservient to President Trump’s wishes, and she isn’t bound by the judicial decisions of past mentors like Justice Scalia. Democrats tried to paint this nominee as a judicial activist with hidden agendas and commitments they were on a mission to expose, and they failed spectacularly. Amy Coney Barrett continually expressed that she has no agenda except to apply the law as best she can interpret it.
When Senator Sasse asked how she would judge a successful career on the Supreme Court, Barrett noted, “I would judge whether I had a successful career by whether I’d always acted with integrity. Whether I’d always followed the rule of law and resisted the temptation to twist the law in the direction that I wanted it to go.”