Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, refused on Tuesday to give a straightforward answer on the question of whether she believes a landmark abortion case should remain intact or not.
During her nomination hearings in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Barrett was questioned by ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) on whether she agreed with her late mentor, Justice Antonin Scalia, that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided. That case, which the Supreme Court ruled on in 1973, legalized abortion services across the entirety of the country and forbade any state government from limiting the medical procedure outright.
Barrett would not give her opinions on the matter, explaining that she did not want to express a viewpoint that she would be beholden to if her nomination is approved.
“If I express a view on a precedent one way or another … it signals to litigants that I may tilt one way or another on a pending case,” she said. “I can’t pre-commit and say, yes, I’m going in with some agenda. I don’t have any agenda.”
Feinstein continued to try and get Barrett to give a response that could demonstrate some semblance of her views on Roe v. Wade but eventually had to concede that Barrett wouldn’t be forthright with her.
“It’s distressing not to get a straight answer,” Feinstein said.
Barrett’s refusal on Monday to express her opinion on the case is a stark departure from what Ginsburg, whom Barrett is hoping to replace, stated at her own confirmation hearings in 1993. Ginsburg was also asked what her views on Roe v. Wade were by senators on the Judiciary Committee, describing the case’s protection of abortion rights as necessary to promote equality in American society.
“It is essential to a woman’s equality with man that she be the decision maker, that her choice be controlling,” Ginsburg said at the time. “If you impose restraints, you are disadvantaging her because of her sex. The state controlling a woman would mean denying her full autonomy and full equality.”
Barrett’s views on abortion are indeed a hot topic during her nomination hearings, as it’s no secret that she personally harbors anti-choice viewpoints. The judge, who currently sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, has said she would not let her own beliefs dictate her views on the subject.
But there are several reasons why many are skeptical of her assurances. In addition to being mentored by the notoriously anti-choice Scalia, Barrett has publicly signaled on a number of occasions that she wants to see the precedent set in Roe v. Wade to be overturned. In 2006, for instance, she was among a number of signers of a newspaper ad that stated they “oppose[d] abortion on demand and defend[ed] the right to life from fertilization to natural death.” The ad further stipulated that the signers considered Roe v. Wade to have created a “barbaric legacy.”
Barrett did not disclose to senators, prior to her confirmation hearings, her involvement in that ad campaign.
The judge has also written papers, as an academic prior to being appointed to the Seventh Circuit, on the idea of “super precedents” — cases decided by the Supreme Court over its history that have become so ingrained in society that they should not be overturned. Roe v. Wade was not among the cases Barrett listed as meeting this criterion.
Beyond the viewpoints Barrett herself has expressed in the past, her very nomination by Trump seems to be an indicator that she is likely to side against the right to abortion if a case involving that issue came before the high court. For one, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee has gone on record saying, “I will vote only for those Supreme Court nominees who have explicitly acknowledged that Roe v. Wade is wrongly decided.” And in 2016, as a candidate for president, Trump promised voters that he would only appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade.
Despite Trump’s promises, a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll published on Monday shows that Americans by and large are supportive of keeping Roe v. Wade intact. Just 24 percent of respondents said they were hopeful the Supreme Court would overturn Roe in the future, while 62 percent said they wanted the landmark decision to remain the law of the land.