After ineffective resistance by Democrats, Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed as expected as the newest Supreme Court justice, despite strong opposition from feminists and progressives of all kinds.
Barrett’s confirmation cements a reactionary majority on the Supreme Court that will last for years to come. It is the crowning touch to the appointment of dozens of ideologically conservative judges on federal appeals courts by the White House and Senate Republicans.
It’s no secret that U.S. courts, including the Supreme Court, uphold the priorities of the capitalists whether those wealthy bosses are Republicans or Democrats. Feminists and working people can’t rely on either party or the Supreme Court to protect our rights. The Supreme Court is particularly undemocratic — appointed, not elected, for life.
How much does it matter? With no mechanism for recall, those sitting justices can make our lives miserable and strip us of our rights for a generation or more, so the fight to resist the right-wing judicial takeover is very important.
What kind of judge will Barrett be? Given the crucial cases that are coming before the court, feminists and activists have reason to be extremely concerned about Barrett. Rulings are expected on the Affordable Care Act, discrimination against same-sex couples in Catholic foster care services, and 16 abortion cases.
There were several telling moments in Barrett’s confirmation hearings. She declined to say how she would rule on the Affordable Care Act or abortion, contraceptives or LGBTQ+ rights. She referred to climate change as an undecided controversy. She said she would not recuse herself from any election-related challenges involving Trump. She conveniently “forgot” the right to protest when asked about the five freedoms of the First Amendment.
The judicial record makes clear the damage Barrett can do to civil liberties and the rights of women, queers, workers, and immigrants. She has routinely ruled in favor of corporations over individuals. According to the Alliance for Justice, Barrett’s business-focused actions on the federal bench have limited the enforcement of age-discrimination laws, restricted federal agencies’ power to punish companies that mislead consumers, and reduced people’s rights against predatory debt collectors. In August, Barrett ruled that GrubHub drivers were not a “class of workers” and therefore not able to file a class action lawsuit for unpaid overtime. She favors denying green cards to undocumented immigrants who have used the social safety net. She ruled against victims of sexual assault on campus and would take away hard-won victims’ rights.
Barrett’s religious beliefs are the backbone of her political ideology. She belongs to a secretive Catholic group called “People of Praise” that believes in rigid gender roles and until recently called high-ranking women “handmaids.” They expel gay members. Barrett signed an open letter that opposed abortion, and believes life begins at fertilization of the egg. This makes many forms of birth control, including the pill and IUD, equal to murder.
Furthermore, Barrett belongs to the right-wing Federalist Society, which grooms conservative lawyers and judges and has ties to the notorious Koch brothers. It’s opposed to “government intrusion,” believes in limiting laws affecting private property and businesses, and has rigorously gone after abortion rights and the Affordable Care Act. Of the federal judges Trump has put on the bench, the vast majority are current or former members of the society.
Building united resistance. Howard Zinn aptly stated in a 2005 article, “Don’t Despair About the Supreme Court,” “The courts have never been on the side of justice, only moving a few degrees one way or the other, unless pushed by the people.”
One role of the court is to serve as a safety valve against popular rebellion. Exert enough pressure and the court will rule to let off some of that steam. Apply enough public outrage, and even conservative judges can make surprisingly good decisions — as evidenced by civil rights legislation, same-sex marriage, and Roe. It’s not going to be easy, but we’re already part way there.
There is an active movement in the streets led by Black and brown youth, including many women of color, protesting against systemic racism, white supremacists, killer cops, and gender and race discrimination on the job and in health outcomes. This is the kind of organizing that can influence the courts.
Creating a united front with agreed-upon demands led by and including the issues of all those groups targeted by the right wing and religious fundamentalists — women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, unemployed, underemployed, unionists, and students — is an important next step.
Ultimately, what’s needed is ending this misogynist, racist, planet-killing, profit-driven economic system. Replacing it with a socialist society based on shared wealth would eliminate worrying about unjust laws being upheld by those who oppress us. When we get rid of the profit motive, it will be possible to provide access for all to quality education, childcare, health care, reproductive rights and employment along with a clean environment and an end to the poverty-to-prison pipeline.
Capitalism and its bought-and-paid-for politicians and judges won’t meet basic needs. It is our constitutional right to demand revolutionary change. Don’t mourn, organize!
Gina Petry is a queer reproductive justice activist and the organizer for Seattle Radical Women.