Nominated on Sept. 26, eight days after Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed, and confirmed to the Supreme Court just a month later, Amy Coney Barrett came into the picture as a prominent national figure quickly. Known for her affiliation with the People of Praise (a religious community) and conservative philosophy, Barrett gives Americans justifiable worries about how she will vote in regards to abortion, immigration and LGBTQ rights.
Barrett is qualified to serve on the Supreme Court. Having graduated first in her class from Notre Dame Law School in 1997, Barrett worked for two years as a judicial law clerk for judges known for their conservative rulings. After this, Barrett joined several prestigious law firms in Washington D.C. from 1999-01, before she returned to Notre Dame to begin her teaching career as a professor.
In May of 2017, former-President Donald Trump nominated Barrett for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit where she served for three years before being nominated for the Supreme Court.
People of Praise
During Barrett’s lengthy Senate confirmation hearings, Sen. Dianne Feinstein mentioned the possibility of Barrett’s religious beliefs intertwining with her political views.
“When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country,” Feinstein said to Barrett during her confirmation hearing.
Barrett’s family has been involved with the People of Praise, a charismatic Christian community established in the 1970s. When Barrett was a child, her father served as the principal coordinator and had a seat on the all-male board of governors, the highest authority in the community. Barrett’s mother served as a Handmaid, a woman’s leadership position that advises other women within the community about relationships and raising children. In 2010, Barrett also held the position of a Handmaid.
The People of Praise grew out of the charismatic Christian movement, taking on a more communal aspect of their religion. For example, in the 1990s, both Barrett and her now husband lived with the community’s co-founder Kevin Ranaghan and his wife, Dorthy, to observe a model of family life. The Ranaghans have been recognized for their role in perpetuating a familial hierarchy of authoritative husbands and submissive wives.
Coral Anika Theill, a former member of People of Praise, wrote a letter to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee about the abuse that she faced while a part of the community.
“I would like to testify at the confirmation hearing of Judge Amy Coney Barrett as to the oppression, abuse and crimes that I and other women were victims in the People of Praise sect, to which Amy belongs. Although men have ultimate authority in the sect, women leaders, like Amy, are complicit in the subordination and mistreatment of lower status women like me,” Theill wrote.
Barrett served for nearly three years as a trustee for the Trinity Schools, three private schools established by the People of Praise. The Trinity Schools do not accept children of parents in a same sex-marriage, and they do not hire teachers who are openly gay or lesbian. For example, a 2018-19 enrollment agreement obtained by the Associated Press says, “the only proper place for human sexual activity is marriage, where marriage is a legal and committed relationship between one man and one woman.”
The Trinity Schools are allowed to discriminate because of their affiliation with the People of Praise, a religious organization. But this association raises serious concerns about how Barrett may vote on issues regarding same-sex discrimination within religious organizations.
The LGBTQ community’s fears of discrimination have never been resolved. In fact, an upcoming Supreme Court case Fulton v. City of Philadelphia will determine whether Catholic Social Services, a foster agency, is allowed to refuse to recruit or certify same-sex couples as potential foster parents. The city of Philadelphia argues that the CSS was in violation of their non-discrimination policy, and the CSS argues that the city’s actions violate their First Amendment rights and Pennsylvania’s Religious Freedom Protection Act. The case has been appealed all the way to the Supreme Court where it will be heard.
During her period in the Seventh Circuit, Barrett oversaw decisions concerning immigrants and their asylum status. In all but one of these cases, she either declined to review or affirmed decisions that denied asylum seekers the ability to stay in the U.S. or other forms or relief to immigrants.
One such case was Maria Azucena Pomposo Lopez v. William P. Barr, in which Maria Lopez, a Mexican citizen, sought a review of the Board of Immigration Appeal’s denial of her applications for asylum within the U.S. for her and her three children. Lopez was a member of a social group for people subjected to family abuse. She had received numerous phone calls in Mexico threatening to hurt her family and kidnap her daughter, and was once held at gunpoint. Barrett voted with the majority that Lopez was not subject to harm serious enough to stay in the U.S., and that she would likely not be subject to torture if returned to Mexico.
In June 2020, Barrett wrote a dissenting opinion in the Cook County v. Wolf case, supporting the Trump’s administration’s public charge rule that would have allowed law enforcement the ability to deny citizenship or green cards to immigrants who would use public services like Medicaid, food stamps or housing assistance. The majority decided that the rule would have violated the Administrative Procedures Act and Rehabilitation Act.
With President Joe Biden now in office, many are hopeful that changes will come to help asylum seekers and promote the wellbeing of immigrants. But with Barrett’s record of ruling in favor of the Trump administration, she may only further conservative rulings after Trump is out of office. With immigration cases sure to continue to be appealed after the Trump administration’s heavy handed policies, it’s likely that Barrett will hear related cases while she is on the Court.
“I don’t think the core case, Roe’s core holding that women have a right to an abortion, I don’t think that would change,” Barrett said in a talk at Jacksonville University, per NPR. “But I think the question of whether people can get very late-term abortions, you know, how many restrictions can be put on clinics, I think that will change.”
Barrett might acknowledge the fact that only one percent of abortions happen after 21 weeks’ gestation and that the the U.S. abortion rate (the number of abortions per 1,000 women age 15-44) has decreased within the past decade, with a 20% decline from 2011-17. This decrease is not necessarily a direct result of abortion restrictions but rather a decrease in overall pregnancies. While there were 394 new abortion restrictions put into place in 32 states between 2011-17, almost every state saw a decrease in both abortions and births during this period, regardless of individual state restrictions.
Aside from Barrett’s feelings that abortion is morally wrong, abortion should be a woman’s reproductive right, bodily autonomy, and choice because of the Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade. When asked during a 2016 presidential debate whether Trump would like to see the Court overturn Roe v. Wade, Trump responded, “If we put another two or perhaps three justices on, that will happen. And that will happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court.”
Looking at Barrett’s past rulings, Americans have reason to fear that laws may be passed in favor of restricting abortion rights, adding extreme regulations to immigration policies, and allowing discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community. But, there may still be hope. On Dec. 14, the Court declined to hear a case where Indiana’s attorney general sought to reverse a lower court’s decision to allow both members of same-sex couples in the state to be listed on the birth certificates of their children. This goes to show that the Court may not always vote in the way that people expect them to. As the younger generation, the most we can do is continue to make known what is important to us, showing our politicians what matters.