The Elite Sisterhood of Amy Coney BarrettHistorians in the News
tags: conservatism, Supreme Court, Federalist Society
Sometimes the reason “women’s rights” feel so tenuous is because the question “which women?” is as central as it is overlooked. The threat Amy Coney Barrett would pose to women as a Supreme Court justice far exceeds abortion. That she was nominated by President Trump to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as a kind of fuck-you to those who saw Ginsburg as legal abortion’s last defense, isn’t helping clarify the potential damage Barrett could do. Any opposition to Barrett is about her faith, the kind of woman she is, her defenders say.
Let’s talk about a woman like her, then, and what she believes. As historian Kim Phillips-Fein wrote in The New York Times on Sunday, while much of the anxious response to Barrett’s nomination has focused on “whether as a believer in originalism and a practicing Catholic she would be likely to vote to reverse Roe v. Wade … [a]t least as consequential might be her position on the Social Security Administration.” On the court, Barrett could join legal attacks on the social safety net, on labor rights, on the environment. If appointed on Trump’s timeline, she would arrive in time to hear his administration’s arguments against the Affordable Care Act.
This isn’t to say abortion is less important than any of these concerns, or, more disturbingly, somehow a distraction to the Supreme Court’s business. Rather, all of these attacks should be more broadly understood as the court rewriting the legal underpinnings of women’s rights, in service of remaking what a woman is: when and how or if she can parent, where and for how much she can work, what or what little autonomy she can have. And this fight over womanhood is not being carried out by a “handmaiden” of the Catholic patriarchy but by a woman who is considerably protected by her own power.
Barrett has been a member of the conservative legal group that has lately functioned as Trump’s judge factory, the Federalist Society. At Notre Dame Law School, “she was groomed” for this appointment, a former colleague there told Politico. There, she found a group of like-minded law school faculty, which she later joined, who used arguments about “judicial restraint” to advance a broader plan to remake the court. Upending Roe was just one part of that strategy. Barrett’s decisions before this nomination speak to that broader agenda of using “originalism” to undercut the decisions of more liberal courts.
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