A Rushed Nomination: The Hypocrisy of Senate Republicans, and the Controversy Of Amy Coney Barrett

Peyton Dauley, Scarlet Staff

The congressional hearings for Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court began last week and ended this past Thursday. As expected, they displayed a strong partisan divide regarding the judge, and whether or not she should be appointed to fill the coveted seat of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Even before the hearings began, The President and Senate Republicans faced scrutiny for their decision to nominate Barrett: most notably for their hypocrisy in doing so. 

A parallel situation in 2016 had invoked opposite emotions from Republicans, who strongly believed that President Obama should not appoint a Supreme Court Justice close to an election. However there is a clear double standard here. President Obama nominated Merrick Garland on March 16, 2016, months before the election. Barrett was nominated with less than a month to go. Obama’s candidate was a moderate, while Barrett leans strongly to the right. Mitch McConnell declared that President Obama could not make any appointments in an election year, yet stated that President Trump’s nominee would be voted for on the Senate floor just hours after the death of former Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

Another major Republican figure vouching for Barrett, Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, infamously stated in 2016 that “I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican President in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsay Graham said let’s let the next President, whoever it might be, make that nomination, and you can use my words against me and you’d be absolutely right.” 

Unfortunately, Senator Graham’s sentiments seemed to have changed since he stated this to be true. He defended this change, saying that this year is different from 2016, as Republicans control both the White House and the Senate. Yet this has not prevented major Democrats from commenting on the obvious disparity. The Associated Press reported that Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware said in regard to the situation that “You don’t convene a Supreme Court confirmation hearing, in the middle of a pandemic, when the Senate’s on recess, when voting has already started in the presidential election in a majority of states.” 

And that’s the catch. 

President Obama was stopped from appointing a Supreme Court justice months before the 2016 election began, and yet, Amy Coney Barrett was nominated as votes had already been cast. NPR released an article on October 19 discussing voter turnout thus far, and how it has reached record levels. 26 million people have already sent or submitted their ballots, six times the number submitted in October 2016. According to the same article, approximately 53% of these votes have been cast by Democrats, and more than 70% were cast by voters aged fifty and older. These record-breaking statistics are significant, especially when considering that Barrett may not have even been nominated when some of them were cast. And now, Barrett’s conservative views have many concerned that her nomination would have swayed a number of Republican or Independent votes. This is believed as a result of Barrett’s viewpoints in three essential areas (at least): abortion rights, healthcare, and LGBTQ+ rights. Although she strongly refused to comment on almost any of these viewpoints at all during her hearings, her background as a professor and judge preceded her. 

It is believed that Republicans are hoping Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court will create a 6-3 conservative majority, allowing for years of right-wing influence over the country’s most pressing issues. One of the first agendas they allegedly hope to tackle with Barrett is the Affordable Care Act. It is no secret that President Trump and several prominent Republicans have been trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for years. However a Barrett seat on the Supreme Court may just make this agenda a reality. In 2012 she criticised Chief Justice Roberts’ decision to allow the ACA’s individual mandate to be a tax, stating in a law review article that “Roberts pushed the ACA beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute,” a commentary reflective of her supposed originalist mindset regarding the Constitution. This would have detrimental effects for many concerned with their healthcare access. American Progress reported on October 1 that if the ACA were to be repealed, about twenty million Americans would lose healthcare coverage This is especially troubling in the middle of a pandemic. Granted this is all speculation based on Barrett’s past, given that she would not explicitly answer any questions about her views during the hearings–instead stating that she would not let them interrupt her rulings. 

However some of Barrett’s rhetoric worried Senate Democrats and Americans watching from outside Congress alike. For example, her use of the term “sexual preference” in reference to the LGBTQ+ community raised massive concern. This was quickly called out by Senator Hirono of Hawaii, who stated to Barrett that “‘sexual preference’ is an offensive and outdated term. It is used by anti-LGBTQ activists to suggest that sexual orientation is a choice.’” Barrett apologized, yet refused to answer any questions regarding her view on the Obergefell case which legalized same-sex marriage in the United States. 

An additional scenario that had many worried about the consequences of Barrett’s views was her reference to climate change as an issue that is “politically controversial.” This statement came after Senator Kamala Harris of California asked Barrett if she “‘believe[s] climate change is happening and threatening the air we breathe and the water that we drink?’” Barrett responded: “I will not [answer your question]…I will not express a view on a matter of public policy, especially one that is politically controversial.” Also, she forgot we have the right to protest our government. Shocker. 

Barrett’s nomination is a sad attempt by Senate Republicans and President Trump to secure a conservative hold over the judicial branch as election polls allude to a potential loss for the party in both the White House and the Senate. Although it could be expected, the hypocrisy of how President Obama was treated versus President Trump displays the innate double standards of our country and its two-party system. Lindsay Graham said we could use his words against him–but it’s no surprise those words have no power. Had Trump-aligned Republicans like himself been able to differentiate the original values of the GOP from the values the President promotes, the White House would not have been supported this long. If anything, the Barrett hearings prove this. Republicans are rushing simply for control, and to push agendas that will undeniably hurt Americans in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

No matter what Barrett says, it is likely she will be nominated at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons. However, hope is not fleeting. Over the weekend, hundreds of Women’s Marches across all fifty states protested the appointment of Barrett to the Supreme Court. Although Barrett will likely be nominated regardless, she will still be met with endless protest if her views do allow interference in her rulings. Recent statistics provided by Forbes state that while only 52% of American respondents wanted to wait to nominate a justice until the next Presidential term begins, 62% would oppose an overturning of Roe v. Wade. Given the additional uproar toward Barrett’s mentioned controversies, it is unlikely that she will be able to overturn any of these rights without protest from the American people – a First Amendment right that Barrett can forget, but one that we never should.