The confirmation and swearing in of Amy Coney Barrett as a judge of the US Supreme Court on Monday, October 26, marks a major victory for conservative and ultra-right wing sections. The 48-year-old judge of the Seventh US Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago was confirmed by a 52-48 vote on largely partisan lines in the Republican Party-controlled US Senate. This was following a confirmation process that was extraordinarily fast by US standards – a concerted Republican move to make sure a conservative judge was appointed before the November 3 elections.
With Barrett’s swearing-in, the US Supreme Court has shifted even more towards the right. Six of the nine judges in the court are conservatives. The composition of the Supreme Court has become a cause for concern as it could have a vital role to play in deciding the winner of the US presidential elections. The ideological composition of the court may also lead to decisions favoring the right-wing on a host of issues, including abortion and reproductive rights, labor laws, immigrant rights and LGBTQ rights.
The Democrats did try to slow down the confirmation process with some procedural moves but failed due to the Republican majority. Meanwhile, the Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden had earlier referred to Amy Coney Barrett as a “a very fine person” and indicated he was not opposed to her. This is despite her having “odious views on a range of subjects allegedly near and dear to the Democrats,” as Eugene Puryear of BreakThrough News pointed out. He added that this was believed to have led to an increase in public support for the judge.
Barrett’s name was proposed by US president Donald Trump after the death of Supreme court judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was a liberal. She becomes the third Supreme Court judge to have taken office during Trump’s tenure. A US Supreme Court judge is not a tenure-limited position, which means they serve until they are impeached, retire of their own accord or die.
Amy Coney Barrett has been described by analysts as likely to be one of the most conservative judges in the current Supreme Court. In her 23-year-long career as a legal practitioner and scholar, including her preceding three-year stint as a federal judge, Barrett has supported and advocated for conservative and right-wing positions on issues of social justice and civil rights. Citing a Reuters report, Eugene Puryear also noted that she has a record of siding with law enforcement when they have been accused of using excessive force.
This record is significant considering the court may also become the center of cases around the elections. This year, postal ballots have become a major point of contention between Democrats and Republicans. The Republicans and Trump have disputed its validity over in-person voting, while Democrats and other progressive groups have argued for its necessity to ensure franchise during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Votes on the line
Nearly 64.7 million people have already voted through postal ballots and early voting, which is already 6 million more than the early voting numbers in 2016. Of these, close to 44.8 million votes were sent by post, surpassing a total of around 33 million in 2016. Already concerns have been raised over the capabilities of the US Postal Service to deliver all the ballots in time, with fears that more than 1 million ballots will not be delivered in time.
Some crucial petitions have reached the court over counting and deadline of postal ballots, including two from key swing States of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. On Monday, as Barrett was being confirmed, the court refused to remove the stay on a lower court ruling that allowed the counting of ballots even after election day in Wisconsin as long as they had been mailed by the deadline. Thousands of ballots may thus be uncounted in the upcoming election in Wisconsin, which has already begun early counting. The Supreme Court has already ruled in favor of the Republicans in a number of election-related cases.
In a counting dispute in the 2000 presidential election, the Supreme Court controversially shut down a recount process in the state of Florida, where the Republican candidate George W. Bush won by a state-wide majority of around 500 votes. A similar close contest is expected in the upcoming elections, and many observers have estimated that if the number of uncounted ballots grows, it could affect the outcome in favor of Trump.
Two key cases
The Supreme Court has two highly anticipated cases in its upcoming session that begins in November. One deals with LGBTQ+ discrimination, in a lawsuit filed by the Roman Catholic archdiocese in Philadelphia against the city officials who barred them for participating in foster-care programs because they barred same-sex couples as foster parents. The other is concerning the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, which helps provide the bare minimum of healthcare to Americans.
Conservative and ultra-right sections in the US are hoping that the current court will strike down Roe vs Wade, a Supreme Court judgement from 1973 that protects the right of women to have abortions.