Roe v. Wade supporters alarmed by Supreme Court contender’s past statements

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Yahoo News

A frontrunner for the Supreme Court nomination has already stirred discussion over her religious views and positions on abortion, among other issues.

That frontrunner, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, is one of three remaining contenders for President Trump’s pick to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, NBC News reported Thursday.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: CSPAN via YouTube, Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
Judge Amy Coney Barrett. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: CSPAN via YouTube, Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

The former Notre Dame law professor is relatively new to the courts, having been confirmed only last year. Though she doesn’t have a lengthy record as a jurist, she has made a number of public comments that have alarmed supporters of abortion rights.

Marge Baker, People for the American Way’s executive vice president of policy and programs, told Yahoo News that GOP senators who support abortion rights, like Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, should reject Barrett if she’s Trump’s pick.

“I think it’d be extremely hard for anyone, including the two Republican women who are pro-choice, to vote to confirm [Barrett], who we know believes that Roe was unconstitutional,” Baker said. “I don’t see how you could possibly see yourself as pro-choice and vote for someone like Amy Coney Barrett.” 

In 1998, Barrett wrote with John Garvey, who was her professor at Notre Dame at the time, that abortions “take away innocent life” and that “both the state and the unborn child’s mother are (at least typically) acting with gross unfairness to the unborn child.”

Barrett has also defended overturning precedents, saying the philosophy “binds judges” and constrains them to vote a certain way. Supporters of Roe v. Wade hope that conservative justices would view landmark rulings like the 1973 abortion case as established constitutional law and therefore not overturn it.

But Barrett’s critics on the left say they don’t have much hope that Barrett would view Roe in that light.  

“We know what type of jurist she will be,” said Dan Goldberg, legal director for Alliance for Justice. “She is a judge who meets the president’s litmus test.”

Rick Garnett, a Notre Dame law professor who has known Barrett for 22 years, told Yahoo News that Barrett would likely keep an open mind about such matters.

“I think Amy’s like every other person who studies federal courts in that stare decisis [the doctrine on precedent] matters; she thinks it’s not absolute,” Garnett said. “I assume that her mind in any case is open on whether a case should stay or go.”

As a Notre Dame professor, Barrett opposed the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. She objected to the bill’s penalty cost as a tax in an academic paper and signed a letter that opposed the provided birth control benefit.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has already stated his opposition to the potential justice, criticizing her writings on Obamacare and precedent.

“The bottom line: Judge Barrett has given every indication that she will be an activist judge on the Court,” he wrote earlier this week on Twitter. “If chosen as the nominee, she will be the deciding vote to overturn Roe v. Wade and to strike down preexisting conditions protections in the ACA.”

Barrett’s religious beliefs have led to concerns from Democrats that it would influence her rulings as a justice, particularly on abortion and the death penalty.

She is also a member of a group called People of Praise, according to the New York Times. Members swear a lifelong loyalty oath and practice “male headship” — putting men in leadership roles. Barrett was a member of the board of trustees for Trinity Schools, which was founded by People of Praise.

Some conservatives have said they’d be outraged if Democrats sought to thwart Barrett’s nomination over her ties to the group.

“If progressives seek to block her from the nation’s highest court because of it, they’ll betray our nation’s founding ideals,” David French wrote in the National Review, a conservative magazine.

Barrett, 46, was confirmed to the Seventh Circuit last year by a vote of 55 to 43. Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly, Tim Kaine and Joe Manchin voted to confirm her.

During her confirmation hearing in 2017, Barrett’s 1998 article drew scrutiny from senators. In the article she wrote with Garvey, senators said, she made the argument that judges should be able to recuse themselves from certain cases if they felt it would violate their Catholic faith.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., questioned Barrett on her Catholicism interfering with the ability to do her job.

“The dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for, for years, in this country,” Feinstein said.

Her statement became infamous among conservatives, who said the senate’s questioning was an unconstitutional religious test. T-shirts and coffee mugs were printed out, proudly proclaiming the “dogma lives loudly within me.”

But Garnett said the 1998 paper was misunderstood by the senators who objected to it. Instead, he argued that the article was meant to show that judges have the obligation to follow the law, regardless of their religious beliefs.

“Her claim was that if this should ever happen,” he said, “that a judge’s religious obligations conflicted with his or her legal obligations, that the judge needed to recuse or even to resign.”

Her longtime Notre Dame colleague also endorsed her for the court.

“She models a sort of ability to argue without being disagreeable and to exchange ideas without thinking that you have to attack the other person,” Garnett said. “The more people see someone like that, the better.”

A former Notre Dame student told Yahoo News Barrett was a well-respected professor who taught class without bias and would use movie clips from films such as “My Cousin Vinny” to explain evidence.

If Trump ultimately picks her, many political observers expect a contentious confirmation fight. Indeed, the Daily Beast called her the pick who will “troll liberals the hardest.”

Ann Coulter, the conservative political commentator and provocateur, endorsed another leading Supreme Court contender, Brett Kavanaugh, as the “best” option. But Coulter said on Twitter that Barrett would be the “funnest.”

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