cover image

Illustration by Dhabia Al Mansoori

Amy Coney Barrett: What her Confirmation Means for Next Week’s U.S. Elections

Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation as the newest Supreme Court Justice has sparked widespread controversy about the haste and hypocrisy of the Republican party.

Nov 1, 2020

Just eight days before the U.S. Presidential election, Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed by the Senate as the newest justice on the Supreme Court. Barrett’s confirmation solidifies a 6-3 conservative majority that will likely skew the court’s makeup for decades to come. The Senate vote was 52-48, with all but one Republican voting in support of Barrett, making her the first U.S. Supreme Court justice in 151 years to be confirmed without a single vote from the minority party. She is also the third SCOTUS justice to be nominated by a president who lost the popular vote and a Senate majority which represents less than half of U.S. Americans. The first two justices to be nominated under these conditions were Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, both of whom were also nominated by President Donald Trump during his first term.
After Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death just six weeks before the election, the Republican party wasted no time nominating and confirming Barrett. Just one week after Ginsburg’s death, Trump announced Barrett as his nominee, and less than four weeks later, Trump and Barrett were celebrating her confirmation and swearing-in ceremony at the White House. This took place after Barrett’s nomination ceremony, which also resulted in 11 new positive Covid-19 cases as most guests failed to wear masks and ignored social distancing guidelines.
Barrett’s impact on the court will likely be felt immediately. Currently on the SCOTUS docket are emergency decisions concerning the extension of dates of acceptance for absentee ballots in the swing states of North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Extending these acceptance dates would allow for more citizens’ votes to be accounted for and potentially further Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s current lead in the polls. Thus, unsurprisingly the Republican party, and therefore the court’s conservative justices, are in opposition of these extensions. The SCOTUS already voted against allowing for the extension of absentee ballot acceptance in Wisconsin, with a 5-3 vote in opposition even before Barrett joined the court. This ruling was a major victory for the Republican party in a crucial swing state where an extension on ballot acceptance would have likely benefited Biden and Harris. As an additional justice, Barrett will only add to this bloc, when considering other cases of ballot acceptance extensions in swing states. Additionally, Barrett’s confirmation gives Trump yet another justice in his corner in the case that the SCOTUS has to consider a challenge to the results of the upcoming election, as seen previously with George W. Bush and Al Gore in the 2000 Presidential election.
Beyond decisions concerning the logistics of the upcoming election, the court’s docket also features a myriad of other preeminent issues which could be adversely affected by Barrett’s confirmation: same-sex marriage and rights, potential access to Trump’s financial records, the Trump administration’s immigration policies and, most immediately, the reversal of the Affordable Care Act on Nov. 10. While not currently on the court’s upcoming docket, the issue of abortion rights and Roe v. Wade is also a key one for millions of U.S. Americans. Barrett is the most openly pro-life justice the court has ever seen and has openly criticized Roe v. Wade’s “illegality” and “barbaric legacy”. Yet, during her Senate confirmation, Barrett managed to say shockingly little about how she will be voting on important issues facing the court, leaving U.S. American citizens in the dark about exactly where she stands as she joins the bench.
Barrett’s confirmation has thus galvanized the left into action, with the Democratic party making promises of potential court-packing or the expansion of the SCOTUS to include more than nine justices, that is if they manage to win control of the White House and the Senate on Nov. 3. While Biden has been reluctant to express his approval of this promise to completely alter the judicial branch of government, he has so far assured voters that, if elected, he will immediately assemble a bipartisan commission whose job will be to investigate the SCOTUS and propose overhauls to the judiciary.
The clearest takeaway from Barrett’s lightning speed confirmation is the bitter hypocrisy of the Republican party. Four years ago, when President Barack Obama had the chance to appoint a justice shortly before the Presidential election, the Republican party refused to even hold Senate confirmation hearings for his candidate. In fact, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after Justice Scalia’s death in 2016, “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
Yet now, when they hold the upper hand, the Republicans, still led by the sanctimonious McConnell, claim that it is their right as the majority party to appoint and confirm a justice within nearly a week of election day, thus completely ignoring the voices of U.S. American voters. This was a move motivated by fear: fear that U.S. Americans are not on their side and fear that without a significant conservative judicial majority, they would lose their grasp on political power.
Republicans may have retained their hold on the judiciary going into this highly contested election, but they have lost something much more significant: their credibility as a political party. The Democratic Party now has a greater opportunity than ever before to retaliate against the right’s moves to overhaul the judiciary. The Republicans have set a dangerous precedent for rushed decisions and modifications of government institutions, giving the left the chance to do the same if they gain majority power. The controversy surrounding Barrett’s nomination makes the outcome of the upcoming election even more divisive, especially considering that her confirmation is a direct result of the inequity of U.S. American votes. If they have any hope of challenging this new heavily conservative majority, Democrats need all the votes they can get to win the White House and Senate majority.
Grace Bechdol is Deputy Communications Editor. Email her at
gazelle logo