One important aspect of Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court on Monday ought to give comfort to Americans. Unlike at least the previous two court nominees, opponents have not succeeded in attacking her qualifications.
Their opposition is based solely on procedure.
Barrett has the legal qualifications to serve with distinction. During her confirmation hearings, she demonstrated an impressive mastery of the law, its application, the importance of respecting precedent and the unique role of a justice in interpreting the law and the Constitution.
No skeletons emerged to besmirch her character the way the previous court appointment, Brett Kavanaugh, had to battle allegations of sexual assault in high school.
Before Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch had to confront allegations of plagiarism. The scrutiny surrounding Barrett revealed not a whisper of anything similar.
Opponents may not like some of her previous rulings or stated opinions, but that could scarcely be considered disqualifying. Few nominees come to the court without a judicial record, and virtually none comes without having stated opinions on current events.
Because nominations to the Supreme Court are for life, and because they are made by presidents and confirmed by the Senate, they are inherently political. This has become increasingly so over the past several decades because of the many high-profile issues Congress has failed to negotiate and legislate.
These issues range from immigration reform to the future of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. When Congress fails to do its job, presidents tend to compensate with executive orders that lead to legal challenges. This puts contested matters before the court, where activists on either side of the issue hope a simple majority will solidify their interests into law.
This is not what the founders intended. Members of Congress are elected to represent the interests and wishes of a particular geographic constituency. They are to come together, work out differences through compromises and craft laws that reflect the needs of the American people within the framework of the Constitution.
Instead, Supreme Court nominations have become bloodsport, with few senators crossing over to support the confirmation of a justice who was nominated by a president from the opposite party.
Republicans set the stage of Barrett’s divisive confirmation by refusing to consider Barack Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland to the court, even though eight months remained until the next presidential election. Some Republican senators said at the time that they would react similarly to a Republican nominee so close to an election, but then changed their minds and voted for Barrett only eight days before Election Day.
Those unfortunate statements from the past notwithstanding, under today’s circumstances — with weak leadership in both houses of Congress — it should not be surprising that a Senate of the same party as the president would confirm a nominee, or that a Senate of the opposite party would defer.
But Barrett’s qualifications should put Americans’ concerns at ease.
She is expected to immediately confront cases involving health care and whether religious groups are entitled to public funds despite policies against gay marriage. Although we hope otherwise, she may soon have a voice in resolving election disputes.
Supreme Court justices, because they are appointed for life, do not always rule the way the presidents who appointed them would like. With Barrett, we trust decisions will at least be based on sound legal reasoning, cast with respect for precedent, original intent and the power of her position.