Nik Dirga: Amy Coney Barrett appointment all about the politics

4:09 pm on 28 October 2020

By Nik Dirga*

Opinion - Ruth Bader Ginsburg died 39 days ago. Her replacement to the United States Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, was approved and sworn in yesterday.

Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett participates, with her family behind her, in the second day of her Senate Judiciary committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on October 13, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Amy Coney Barrett can now help rule on any issues that arise in next week's US election, including how ballots are counted. Photo: AFP / Getty

Another Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia, died in February 2016. It took 422 days for his replacement to be sworn in.

Many Americans are righteously angry at the lightning-quick, deeply hypocritical confirmation of Barrett to the highest court in the land, eight days before a fiery presidential election.

The Supreme Court has been a political football for ages. But the US Senate, led by Republican Mitch McConnell, has been breathtakingly blatant in shoving Barrett's nomination through.

When Scalia died, McConnell categorically refused to hold hearings on Democrat President Obama's nominee Merrick Garland, nine months before the 2016 election.

Yet McConnell couldn't backpedal fast enough to allow a vote this year, sending out a statement pledging to do it mere hours after Ginsburg's death, the contorted logic being that with a Republican president and senate, it's fine. It's only when the president isn't from your party that you deny them their right to name a justice.

"The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice," McConnell pontificated in 2016.

A voice, except when it's eight days until an election. It's one rule for some, another rule for others, which makes a mockery of everything a Supreme Court should stand for.

In the past, the Supreme Court has ruled against segregation, guaranteed voting rights, upheld freedom of speech and the press, and gave women the right to choose.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear cases on the future of American health care, voting rights, abortion and religious liberty in coming weeks.

No matter who wins 3 November, these decisions will shape lives.

Most worrying, Barrett can now help rule on any issues that arise in next week's election, including how ballots are counted.

Barrett, 48, has a lifetime seat on the court. If she lives the average American female life expectancy of 81, she could be there until 2053.

In New Zealand, Supreme Court justices are required to retire at age 70.

In the US, it's as long as they last (age 90 is the record).

Barrett was hurtled through confirmation hearings at record speed.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the average time to confirm a justice has been 71 days. Barrett's took one month.

Court nominees have made an art form out of obfuscation when questioned by senators about their views, but Barrett was a particularly blank slate. She kept quiet on her views on abortion, climate change, voting rights and more.

She even declined to answer whether she thought a president should be able to pardon himself from crimes.

Barrett was barely approved, 52 to 48.

In contrast, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was approved 96 to three by the senate in 1993. No Supreme Court nominee since has received as many votes to confirm.

Ginsburg had a storied judicial career - she had argued groundbreaking cases before the Supreme Court six times, and had been a judge on the US Court of Appeals for 13 years before confirmed to the top court.

Barrett had been a judge for all of three years, appointed to the Court of Appeals by US President Donald Trump. She never argued a case before the Supreme Court. She spent much of her career as a law professor.

Rushing a judge's confirmation to beat an election clock is an insult to Americans who will be subject to their rulings for decades.

More Americans have actually voted for the Democratic nominee in six of the last seven Presidential elections. But the Supreme Court has ended up with a solid six to three conservative majority. Republicans have named 15 of the last 19 justices.

It's all about the politics - witness the scathingly juvenile tweet sent out by the GOP House Judiciary official Twitter account - "Amy Coney Barrett, confirmed. Happy Birthday, Hillary Clinton!"

The confirmation came on the same day as Clinton's 73rd birthday.

Worse, it just adds to the loss of faith Americans of all persuasions have in their systems now.

There's little justice to be found there.

*Nik Dirga is an American journalist who moved to New Zealand in 2006.

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