On her deathbed, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed”. She wanted the people to choose their president in November so the newly elected president could fill her seat on the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). Millions of Americans have already begun voting, yet Trump wasted no time in denying her that wish.
Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett as Ginsburg’s replacement. Barrett currently sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. She has “impeccable intellectual credentials”. Barrett taught at Notre Dame for 15 years, she graduated from college summa cum laude, and she clerked under the late Justice Antonin Scalia. She is a mother of seven. She is a devout Catholic. She is an originalist. And Barrett, at only 48 years old, if confirmed to the Supreme Court, will sit on the highest court for decades to come.
Comparably, Ginsburg was proud of her faith, too. She once said “I am a judge, born, raised and proud of being a Jew. The demand for justice runs through the entirety of the Jewish tradition”. She was also a mother. She was a professor, too. In fact, Ginsburg was the first female tenured professor at Columbia University. Like Barrett, she was a highly successful student and professional. Ginsburg also viewed the law conservatively, although her ideas were progressive. She focused on “adherence to procedure, principles of federalism, judicial independence”, characteristics with “marks of conservatism”.
Here is the difference between the two. Ginsburg was a staunch advocate for gender equality. She considered abortion an essential freedom for all women, while Barrett has called abortion “always immoral”. This, Barrett clarifies, comes from her perspective as a Catholic, not a judge. She has repeated countless times that her personal views will not inform her judicial decisions. But, she has written a dissenting opinion on a ruling which upheld that minors do not need parental approval to get an abortion. Clearly, Barrett’s personal views have and will affect how she rules. This means that a woman’s right to choose could be taken away if she is confirmed.
Barrett has also written dissenting opinions on the legality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is scheduled to be seen by SCOTUS soon after the election. She has not supported the ACA in the past and undoing it could wreak havoc on a population that currently has the highest rate of infections and deaths from Covid-19. Barrett also dissented on a ruling that banned people with non-violent felony convictions from possessing firearms, in a country that suffers from massive gun violence.
Still, Americans understand that senators need to fill Ginsburg’s spot. This is politics and it is their job, but that does not mean that Barrett is an equal replacement for Ginsberg. Many Americans fear that her confirmation would be detrimental to their quality of life. It is terrifying to think that so much rests on one person. It is terrifying that a woman who opposes Ginsburg so fundamentally may replace her.
I would like to think that Ginsburg and Barrett would be friends despite their differences, like Ginsburg and Scalia were. Barrett clearly cares about the Constitution and interpreting the law thoroughly. However, as intelligent and careful as she may be, the Constitution was written at a time that did not consider women or Black Americans as people. So perhaps a commitment to originalism is not a perfect application of American law anymore. Barrett cannot appreciate that adaptation. But, most likely, she will be confirmed, and Americans will be subject to whatever that will bring.