On Sept. 26, President Donald Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett,a devout Catholic with two years of experience on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, to the Supreme Court. On October 26th, a short week before the 2020 election, the Senate confirmed her in the closest high court confirmation vote in proximity to a presidential election.
In the coming months, she will hear her first four cases as a Supreme Court Justice, all of which were accepted by the court before Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. One of the first cases she will hear regards a potential violation of the crucial Voting Rights Act in the state of Arizona.
Judges, particularly those serving on the highest court, inarguably have a moral obligation to hear cases impartially and to rule principally according to their constitutional interpretation.
We do not, however, appoint judges to rule from their personal beliefs. Barrett ironically once said this herself in a speech at the Jacksonville Public Policy Institute: “We shouldn’t be putting people on the court that share our policy preferences. We should be putting people on the court who want to apply the Constitution.”
This brings us to Judge Barrett’s troublingly partial comments at her confirmation hearing regarding everything from the reversal of Roe v. Wade to the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act.
She could argue that her stances are impartial and in line with her originalist interpretation of the Constitution, but they also align with her beliefs as a Catholic woman and outspoken conservative.
Of all her ultra-conservative comments, however, her stance on the Voting Rights Act has to be the most disturbing.
In the wake of this summer’s uprising against racial injustice in the United States, it is imperative that our lawmakers listen to voices of color. After months of outcry and protests only resulted in further police brutality, our nation was left with only one way to make its voice heard: the vote.
Signed into law in 1965, the Voting Rights Act has protected racial minorities’ access to the polls. Initially, it was a defense against discriminatory literacy tests and similar voter suppression techniques prevalent in southern states to prevent Black Americans from voting. In the 2000s it worked to prevent harmful redistricting along racial and socioeconomic lines and potentially discriminatory voter ID laws.
In 2013, however, the act’s reach was greatly reduced by a conservative Supreme Court vote.
The court was clearly split along ideological lines﹘traditionally liberal justices argued there was more to be done to protect minorities at the polls, and traditionally conservative justices argued that nothing was obstructing minorities from voting in the first place.
The late Justice Antonin Scalia joined in the majority opinion in weakening the Voting Rights Act. During her confirmation hearing, Barrett claimed his judicial philosophy as her own, having clerked for him for many years.
The portions of the act struck down by the court made our modern Voter ID policies legal﹘states can require voters to have IDs to vote, but can also control what kind of IDs allow voters to cast their vote.
For example, polling places in Alabama do not accept university IDs as voter identification.
Further redefinition and reduction of the Voting Rights Act﹘more than likely under an ideologically conservative Supreme Court﹘could mean less regulation of campaign donations and state redistricting, tactics that systematically affect voters of color.
With the Supreme Court now in session and hearing the opening arguments for the Arizona case, Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation could be the end of the line for a law that seeks to provide equal access to voting for minorities at a time when it’s crucial for the voices of minorities to be heard.