Conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett nominated to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, sparks nationwide debate

The U.S. Supreme Court building at dusk on Capitol Hill in Washington.

On Friday, Sept. 18, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. With only 46 days before the presidential election, Ginsburg’s death sparked a nationwide debate as to whether or not President Donald Trump should appoint someone in the remainder of his term. According to the Congressional Research Service, since 1975, the average amount of time taken to confirm a Supreme Court justice once an individual is nominated is 67 days. While discussions of the potential to nominate a new justice echoed debates of the past over the nomination of Merrick Garland—though Garland was nominated eleven months prior to the election, rather than less than two—Americans did not have to wait long to see Trump’s next step. Eight days later, on Saturday, Sept. 26, Trump announced his nominee: Amy Coney Barrett, an appeals court judge well known for her religious, conservative views. 

“It’s very, very likely that she’ll be confirmed, because as far as we know, Republicans have the votes,” said Professor of Political Science with a specialization in Constitutional Law Michael Gorup. “Mitt Romney publicly said that he would vote for the nominee even before her name was announced, which is an insane thing: that in itself is unprecedented, that politicians are staking out where they fall on the vote before they even know who the nominee is.”

While timing and endorsements have fed into polarizing debates on this subject, the most obvious concern comes from anybody left of center: if the Senate confirms Barrett, she would shift the balance of the Supreme Court to a very strong conservative majority 6 to 3.

Currently, Chief Justice John Roberts serves as the swing vote on the Supreme Court—he often sides with the liberal sect of the Court. Gorup predicted that should Barrett be appointed, Roberts’ role as the swing vote may change.

“If there are six justices who are firmly conservative on the Court, Roberts doesn’t have the power to sway the outcome of the case by siding with the liberal justices,” said Gorup. “So I suspect what he’d try to do is side with the conservatives and write the opinion in such a way that it protects the prestige of the Court, because I think his main objective in serving the role as a swing vote is not because he agrees with liberal political preferences, but he is concerned that the Court might appear to be partisan. I think we’ll see more conservative decisions handed down.”

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