In a Sunday speech at the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville, named for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), only weeks after conservatives gutted abortion rights in Texas, Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett decried the view that the highest court in the land is politicized.
“My goal today is to convince you that this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks,” Barrett said, per the Louisville Courier Journal, at a celebration of the McConnell Center’s 30th anniversary. “The media, along with hot takes on Twitter, report the results and decisions…. That makes the decision seem results-oriented. It leaves the reader to judge whether the court was right or wrong, based on whether she liked the results of the decision.”
When asked about the “shadow docket,” under which the Supreme Court has issued decisions under a relative veil of secrecy, and the abortion decision that political experts say could be a harbinger of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Barrett said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the Supreme Court’s decision regarding the Texas law, as other similar cases may soon be coming before the court.
Early this month, the Supreme Court refused to block a Texas law that effectively overturns Roe v. Wade in the state and has had a chilling effect on virtually all abortions in the state. The decision, handed down by conservative justices in the court, was widely panned as dangerous and cruel.
The speech decrying the public view of the court as being politicized is ironic considering that Barrett’s nomination and confirmation were themselves highly politicized events, and the Republicans behind the whole process are arguably the very people responsible for creating that impression among the public. Additionally, it is not lost on the public that the justices nominated by Trump and the GOP explicitly for their ideological bent have largely lived up to that expectation.
Just weeks after Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in September of last year and one week before the 2020 presidential election, the majority-Republican Senate confirmed Barrett to the highest court in the land along a 52-48 near-party line vote.
Democrats at the time pointed out the politicization of the process that was an important step for eroding public trust in the court. The Supreme Court typically enjoys majority support from the public, but according to a July poll, that support has dipped to under 50 percent.
The extremely short timeline for Barrett’s confirmation is underscored by the fact that Republicans, led by McConnell, had waged a historic campaign to block as many of President Barack Obama’s judicial appointments as possible.
The most infamous case was Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court in March of 2016. McConnell blocked the appointment, arguing that the nomination was too close to the election in November, nearly seven months away.
In reality, McConnell was trying to pack the Supreme Court and the lower courts of the land. When Donald Trump took office months later, Republicans rushed the confirmation of conservative justice Neil Gorsuch, ushering in a new era of conservatism on the Supreme Court. Trump then went on to appoint nearly as many federal appeals court judges in four years as Obama did over his eight years in office.
Barrett’s speech is also ironic considering her extreme far-right stances that, according to some legal experts, position her as the most right-wing justice on the court. Fueled by conservative dark money interests, Barrett refused to acknowledge whether voter suppression was illegal during her confirmation hearing and had previously signed a statement calling Roe “barbaric.”
“Not ‘partisan hacks’? Then explain 80-0 partisan 5-4 record for big donors,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Oregon) wrote on Twitter, referencing the 80 cases backed by moneyed conservative interests that were decided by the five conservative justices in the court, with all liberal justices dissenting.
“[E]xplain judicially conservative principles rolled over to get those wins for donors who put you on the Court,” Whitehouse said. Referring to the so-called “shadow docket” decisions, he continued, “Explain why the Citizens United majority never enforced its supposed ‘transparency’ principle, for starters.”