Barrett, like her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia for whom she clerked, claims to be an “originalist” and “textualist” with respect to her interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and laws in arriving at judicial decisions. Derived from that philosophy is that these folks purport never to allow their personal ideology or politics to influence their decisions.
If you buy that, I have a bridge spanning New York City’s East River I’m eager to sell you.
Originalists claim they go by the language of the Constitution, but in applying their philosophy, they tend to go beyond the language of the Constitution to consider intent, as evidenced by the history of the text and the Founding Fathers’ writings on the subject.
Textualists profess to go by the literal language of a law when assessing its constitutionality. The words mean what they say, period, and nothing more. Textualists say that they do not delve into legislative intent.
Both originalists and textualists call themselves “strict constructionists.” If they really were so pure, then any laws enacted since 1789 that addressed technologies that post-dated the Constitution, such as the telegraph, railroads, telephones, automobiles, airplanes, radio, television, atomic weapons, computers, the Internet and cellphones, to name a few, would have been declared unconstitutional. Since textualists and originalists haven’t done that, their professed philosophies camouflage what they are really about.
Barrett also claims that she does not and will not legislate from the bench, a criticism conservatives have battered liberal judges with since the Warren Court. This is a canard easily countered by reading her Court of Appeals’ decisions. The idea that conservative judges refrain from legislating (“judicial activism”) is, like originalism and textualism, unadulterated hogwash. Conservative judges legislate all the time. All you need to know to skewer that falsity is to read some of the Supreme Court’s recent decisions in which the Court’s alleged textualists/originalists prevailed: Citizens United, where the Court overturned congressional legislation (the McCain-Feingold Act) that imposed restraints on the influence of money in political campaigns; or Shelby County v. Holder, where to its eternal shame, the Court’s majority trashed the section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that reined in voter suppression, thus opening the door to the flagrant attempts by Donald Trump and Republicans to steal the 2020 election by suppressing the vote.
Underlying all this hokum about how self-proclaimed judicial purists like Barrett supposedly read and interpret the Constitution and laws is the fact that they emerge from the Federalist Society, a right-wing organization awash in money from the reactionary billionaire class (e.g, the Koch Brothers, the Scaife Foundation and their ilk). Under recent Republican presidents, this extremist group has owned the franchise on selecting candidates for federal judicial appointments. It has an agenda, one that perverts public policy toward the interests of corporations and the super-rich, anti-regulation crew that wants government out of the way so they can do what they please, to hell with the public good. Amy Coney Barrett is a devoted, card-carrying member of the Federalist Society. Bet the mortgage that she will legislate from the bench in pursuit of the Society’s goals.
The naked power grab represented by the Trump/McConnell hypocrisy is bad enough in itself--denying a nominee a hearing and vote in one presidential election year while hustling another through four years later. What she brings to the Supreme Court and what she will do to America in the next thirty years is far worse, beginning with terminating healthcare for 20 million Americans, an issue about which she has been outspoken, criticizing the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Once on the Court, she will hear oral arguments in the Trump administration’s determined attempt to deep-six the Act on November 10.
Access to health insurance will be taken away from 23 million Americans. The ban on denying coverage for pre-existing conditions (like Covid-19) will be gone. Allowing your kids to stay on your health plan to age 26 will disappear.
Now to the Barrett antidote: “Court packing”--expanding the number of justices--that has aroused much passion in recent days, is not the solution. Even in 1937, when FDR attempted it after winning a huge electoral victory, it got a bad rap. Actually, while he failed to expand the Court, he achieved his goal. The Court was so terrified that it immediately began upholding New Deal legislation it had been striking down before.
Court-packing would only open the door to more of the same the next time Republicans take power. However, there is another way to neutralize a reactionary Court: by invoking the “jurisdiction-stripping” authority enshrined in the Constitution. Article III, Section 2’s “Exceptions” clause gives Congress the power to define (limit or remove) the Court’s appellate jurisdiction, even in constitutional cases. The Court itself has upheld this power numerous times. This weapon can be wielded without all the political baggage associated with court-packing. While that may not save the Affordable Care Act, it could be a bulwark against many of the rest of the laws and principles that matter so much.
October 16, 2020