Demystifying Amy Coney Barrett’s Judicial Philosophy

By Krista Haraway

In the wake of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death and the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming presidential election, many of us turned to Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings to assess the implications of a third Supreme Court vacancy filled by President Trump. SCOTUS is set to hear several cases starting this November that a conservative leaning Court could unravel, like the constitutionality of the ACA’s individual mandate and a state’s ability to exclude faith-based agencies from foster-care for refusing to work with same-sex couples.[1]

When questioned, Judge Barrett refused to give any of her own opinions about case rationale, judicial outcomes, or current policy issues, defaulting to her devotion to precedent, stare decisis, and an originalist interpretation of the law. As she repeatedly insisted that her personal or partisan beliefs would hold no weight in executing her duties as a Justice,[2] I realized the judicial utopia I’ve always dreamed of really does exist.

During a lecture she gave in 2016, Impacts of the Presidential Election on the Supreme Court, Barrett expressed that voters often incorrectly conflate the partisan terms “conservative” or “liberal” with a judges’ judicial philosophy. Citing her mentor Scalia’s view, she clarified these terms actually refer to how strictly judges interpret the law, not their preferred policy outcome.[3] What a relief.

Through an originalist lens, the law is “interpret[ed] at the level of generality in which it is written.”[4] If the law is ambiguous, a judge should stick to the original intention of the framers to avoid “judicial lawmaking,”[5] unless the Constitution has been amended to state otherwise.[6] Luckily we’ve already managed to amend those pesky issues about the fractional value of a human life and the validity of an entire genders’ voice.

If you think about it, this philosophy is logically sound prima facie and when reviewed de novo. With such a cut and dry approach, we can ignore the indisputable reality that gross injustices will only pervade society for decades until we amend the Constitution. Until then, we can rest easy knowing the Republican Senate majority is working hard with their fellow Democrats to pass policies we can all support, regardless of our partisan beliefs.

We can pretend the Supreme Court is a sacred equalizer for democracy, or, we could look at it for what it is—a mechanism to implement the policies we cannot get the voting power to adopt nationwide.[7] A device with lifetime appointments, used to maneuver around the votes we cannot achieve on policies that are fundamentally political.




[4] See previous source.



[7] Podcast, Slate: What Next.

Leave a Reply