Here’s Why New Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett Beliefs Have So Many People Concerned

Her appointment has raised a lot of questions - here's why...

Amy Coney Barrett

by Georgia Aspinall |
Updated on

Last night, Amy Coney Barrett replaced the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the ninth member of the US Supreme Court. Just like her nomination came with swathes of controversy, her being sworn in one week before the US general election has caused waves too. Because, the US Supreme Court now has a conservative majority of six to three, and Amy Coney Barrett’s beliefs on their own make that very, very scary for the US.

Her previous essays on abortion, faith and gun control have all been called into question in recent weeks. Most notably, many are asking if she can remain impartial when ruling on cases as part of the Supreme Court despite her devout Catholicism. When asked about this, she is always adamant that she can, stating on multiple occasions that her actions as part of the Supreme Court will always be impartial despite her personal views.

That being said, reading her own words on various important topics, it's no wonder everyone is talking about Amy Coney Barrett's beliefs.

Amy Coney Barrett’s beliefs on abortion

One of the biggest factors in many peoples disapproval of Barrett is her beliefs on abortion. Most notably, when she refused to answer a hypothetical question about whether there was a 'constitutional problem' with abortion becoming a capital crime - making women who get abortions potentially subject to the death penalty.

'As a sitting judge and as a judicial nominee, it would not be appropriate for me to offer an opinion on abstract legal issues or hypotheticals,' she said in response to the question 'Under an originalist theory of interpretation, would there be any constitutional problem with a state making abortion a capital crime, thus subjecting women who get abortions to the death penalty?'

As of yet, Amy Coney Barrett hasn’t ruled specifically on abortion before, however she has reviewed two cases on abortion restriction while on an appeals court.

She has voted in favour of a law that would have mandated doctors to inform the parents of a minor seeking an abortion, with no exceptions. Plus, she called for a state law that sought to ban abortions related to sex, race, disability or life-threatening health conditions to be reheard.

She has also writen in one court opinion that the procedure is 'always immoral' (dissented in Box v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky Inc). During the three days before the Senate Judiciary Committee, she signed a letter calling for the end of the 'barbaric' Roe vs. Wade.

On the vitally important Roe vs Wade, she has also argued that the public interest in that specific case is not necessarily because of a vested interest in women accessing abortion as they choose – as one might expect – but because an obsession with seeing the outcome of cases that use it as precedent. That ‘court watchers’ are excited by the possibility of it being overruled.

‘[The] public response to controversial cases like Roe reflects public rejection of the proposition that [precedent] can declare a permanent victor in a divisive constitutional struggle rather than desire that the precedent remain forever unchanging,’ she wrote in a 2013 Texas Law Review. ‘Court watchers embrace the possibility of overruling, even if they may want it to be the exception rather than the rule.’

Amy Coney Barrett’s beliefs on precedent

That then, of course, calls in her beliefs on precedent, which any Suits fans will know can be vital to court rulings. Technically, a precedent is a ‘principle or rule established in a previous legal case that is either binding on or persuasive for a court or other tribunal when deciding subsequent cases with similar issues or facts.’

Barrett seems to call into question the validity of using precedent, which is exactly why people are so nervous about her remarks on Roe vs Wade – a court case that has been vital, of course, for ruling in favour of women’s access to abortion.

‘Does the Court act lawlessly - or at least questionably - when it overrules precedent?" she wrote in said 2013 Texas Law Review article. ‘I tend to agree with those who say that a justice's duty is to the Constitution and that it is thus more legitimate for her to enforce her best understanding of the Constitution rather than a precedent she thinks is clearly in conflict with it.’

Given the US constitution was written in 1787, you can see how her commitment to upholding it above all other precedents set in the years since is concerning.

Amy Coney Barrett’s religious beliefs

As a devout Catholic, Amy Coney Barrett’s religious beliefs and statements in the past are exactly why questions of impartiality in regards to the law have been raised in conversations about her becoming a Supreme Court Justice. In 1998, she co-wrote an article with a professor about catholic judges where she said that they are ‘obliged by oath, professional commitment and the demands of citizenship to enforce the death penalty’ and ‘to adhere to their church's teaching on moral matters’.

In a 2017 confirmation hearing for the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, she vehemently denied her faith would get in the way of her ruling decisions. Despite describing herself as a ‘faithful Catholic’ she said ‘I would decide cases according to rule of law, beginning to end, and in the rare circumstance that might ever arise - I can't imagine one sitting here now - where I felt that I had some conscientious objection to the law, I would recuse…I would never impose my own personal convictions upon the law.’

Amy Coney Barrett’s beliefs on guns

Amy Coney Barrett doesn’t have a long history with voting on cases involving the right to bear arms, but in the one that she does, it is extremely controversial. She argued in favour of a man who had been convicted of mail fraud, and then served his time, that challenged the state laws barring him from owning a gun as a felon.

Arguing that the government can only stop people from owning guns if they’ve been shown to be dangerous with them, she said ‘founding-era legislatures did not strip felons of the right to bear arms simply because of their status as felons.’

She has since told students at Hillsdale College that while it ‘sounds kind of radical to say felons can have firearms’, she found no ‘blanket authority’ to take guns away from Americans without showing the individual was a danger.

She also confirmed during her Senate confirmation that she and her family own a gun.

Amy Coney Barrett’s beliefs on healthcare

With a ruling on the Affordable Care Act coming in November - Barack Obama's landmark healthcare law that brought insurance coverage to millions – her opinions on healthcare have also been called into question.

In the past, she criticised Chief Justice John Roberts's opinion on the act's individual mandate, which imposed a penalty for anyone who did not sign up for insurance, as part of a 2017 law review essay.

‘Chief Justice Roberts pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute,’ she wrote. ‘He construed the penalty imposed on those without health insurance as a tax, which permitted him to sustain the statute as a valid exercise of the taxing power; had he treated the payment as the statute did - as a penalty - he would have had to invalidate the statute as lying beyond Congress's commerce power.’

Amy Coney Barrett’s beliefs on race

While Amy Coney Barrett has been clear on agreeing that racism persists in the US, she has refused to say whether racism is ‘systemic’.

During the confirmation hearings, she was asked whether she has seen the video of George Floyd’s death, to which she replied ‘As I have two black children that was very, very personal for my family,’ adding that she and her daughter ‘wept together’ upon seeing it.

However, she went on to refuse how she would rule on cases surrounding racism. ‘Those things are policy questions,’ she said. ‘Hotly contested policy questions,’ adding giving her view on how to tackle racism ‘is kind of beyond what I'm capable of doing as a judge’.

So, can a supreme court justice be removed?

The question everyone is asking, or googling, seems to be 'can a supreme court justice be removed?'. Well, it's very, very hard. As we learned from attempts to remove Brett Kavanaugh from the Supreme Court.

The US government website says that the 'constitution states that Justices "shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour." This means that the Justices hold office as long as they choose and can only be removed from office by impeachment.'

In order for a justice to be impeached, a majority of the members of the United States House of Representatives have to vote in favour of it and the impeachment is then referred to the United States Senate for trial. A conviction requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate. Considering the only Justice to be impeached was Associate Justice Samuel Chase in 1805, the bar is so high so as to be impossible.

Amy Coney Barrett is also only 48, so stands to be on the court for decades.

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