Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett on Tuesday explained her judicial philosophy as an “originalist” and said it’s not a judge’s role to impose his or her “will on the world.”
Barrett, if confirmed, would replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg and become the first mother of school-age children to serve on the court. She has seven children.
Barrett was appearing before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee as it held its second day of hearings and began its questioning of her.
Her embrace of originalism – a judicial philosophy held by the late Antonin Scalia, a member of the conservative bloc and a hero of the Right – would be a dramatic departure from the liberal philosophy of Ginsburg. Explaining originalism and her view of the Constitution, she told senators, “I understand [the Constitution] to have the meaning that it had at the time people ratified it. That meaning doesn't change over time and it's not up to me to update it or infuse my own policy views into it.”
“Judges can't just wake up one day and say, ‘I have an agenda. I like guns; I hate guns. I like abortion; I hate abortion’ – and walk in like a royal Queen and impose their will on the world,” Barrett said.
Barrett, 48, called Scalia a “mentor.” But Barrett – who clerked for Scalia – quickly added, “I want to be careful to say that if I'm confirmed, you would not be getting Justice Scalia. You would be getting Justice Barrett. And that's so because originalists don't always agree.”
Barrett was asked repeatedly her views on a number of cases and legal issues, including Roe v. Wade and the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). She quoted Ginsburg from 1993 and said she would offer “no hints, no previews, no forecasts” on how she may rule in future cases.
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) asked Barrett if she agrees with Scalia that Roe was “wrongly decided.” Barrett said it would be wrong for her to answer the question.
“I think in an area where precedent continues to be pressed and litigated,” Barrett responded, “... [I]t would actually be wrong and a violation of the canons for me to do that as a sitting judge. So if I express a view on a precedent, one way or another, whether I say ‘I love it,’ or ‘I hate it,’ it signals to litigants that I might tilt one way or another in a pending case.”
Barrett gave a similar answer on the Affordable Care Act.
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.) asked Barrett about a 2006 pro-life newspaper ad that included her name.
“We signed it on the way out of church. It was consistent with the views of my church, and it simply said: We support the right to life from conception to natural death,” Barrett said.
Leahy pressed Barrett on the issue, asking her if she agreed with the positions of the pro-life organization behind the ad. Specifically, he asked if she believed if in vitro fertilization (IVF) is equivalent to manslaughter, as he said the pro-life organization believed.
“I’ve never expressed a view on it. And for the reasons that I've already stated, I can't take policy positions or express my personal views before the committee,” Barrett responded. “Because my personal views don't have anything to do with how I would decide cases and I don't want anybody to be unclear about that.”
Amy Coney Barrett Opposed ‘Abortion on Demand’ in 2006 Newspaper Ad
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.