(Sept. 27) Amy Coney Barrett brings a resume that could make her the most conservative new justice since Clarence Thomas and a dream addition for Republicans looking to remake the U.S. Supreme Court.
Barrett, nominated Saturday by President Donald Trump, champions the “originalist” approach that has become conservative orthodoxy for interpreting the text of the Constitution. She is an acolyte of the late Justice Antonin Scalia. She has deep Catholic convictions and has said that life begins at conception. Only 48, she could serve for more than 30 years.
And should she win Senate confirmation to succeed the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as expected, Barrett could bring about the biggest legal shift in decades. Her vote would make the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts more likely to overturn Obamacare, disable federal regulatory agencies and expand gun rights. She might even give conservatives their long-pursued goal of toppling the 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion-rights ruling.
Speaking in the White House Rose Garden after being introduced by Trump, she vowed to try to emulate Scalia, for whom she clerked in the court’s 1998-99 term.
“His judicial philosophy is mine too,” Barrett said. “A judge must apply the law as written. Judges are not policy makers and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they might hold.”
Barrett rates as more conservative than either of Trump’s first two nominees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, according to a predictive scale developed by academics led Lee Epstein, a law professor and political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis. Both justices have been generally reliable votes for Trump and conservative causes, though Gorsuch disappointed many of his backers in June with his majority opinion extending federal anti-discrimination law to protect LGBTQ workers.
Trump called Barrett “a woman of unparallelled achievement, towering intellect, sterling credentials and unyielding loyalty to the Constitution.”
Although other Supreme Court justices have disappointed supporters in the past, Barrett brings an especially strong set of credentials, including at least nine appearances since 2014 at events sponsored by the conservative Federalist Society.
“She is a rock-solid conservative,” said Mike Davis, founder of the Article III Project, which advocates for Trump’s judicial selections. “With the appointment of a Justice Barrett as his third Supreme Court pick, President Trump will transform the 5-4 John Roberts court to the 6-3 Clarence Thomas court.”
Her academic work suggests she would be more willing to throw out precedents than Scalia, the conservative icon for whom she once clerked, said Ilya Shapiro, director of the Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies at the libertarian Cato Institute.
“You can tell in her writings that she loved the man and she agrees generally with his approach to the law,” Shapiro said. “But she’s a little more willing than he was, I think, at least if you’re a Supreme Court justice, to question precedent.”
Scalia was less inclined to toss out past Supreme Court rulings than his colleague Thomas, who was confirmed in 1991. Barrett would probably fall between those two in her adherence to precedent, Shapiro said.
Her record suggests she would be even more supportive of gun rights than Scalia, who wrote the landmark 2008 decision that said the Second Amendment protects individual freedoms, says Adam Winkler, a UCLA Law School professor who specializes in that subject. He says Barrett probably would vote to strike down “red flag” laws designed to temporarily take firearms away from dangerous people.
Barrett “is likely to have a huge impact on America’s gun policy if she is appointed to the Supreme Court,” Winkler tweeted this week.
She has voiced skepticism about the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. In a 2017 law review article, she criticized Roberts’ opinion upholding the law as pushing the text “beyond its plausible meaning.” The Supreme Court will take up a new constitutional challenge to the health-care law a week after the election.
One of Barrett’s home-state senators, Republican Mike Braun, contrasted her with Roberts, a Republican appointee who also cast key votes to preserve the DACA deferred-deportation program and block Trump from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
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