October 27, 2020
In taking the oath of office, Amy Coney Barrett has changed the Supreme Court forever. Not because she is conservative, not just because she was rushed through. In fact, the changes started long before her.
Every administration has looked to put judges and justices on courts who generally reflect their view of the law, but that was based on principles, not politics. When Mitch McConnell refused to even meet with, much less hold hearings on, President Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland in 2016, he signaled that it was no longer about legal qualifications and judicial temperament, but about politics.
No longer would there be any effort to bring balance to the court. There would be no nod to ensuring that plaintiffs could feel comfortable that no matter if you were representing a Republican or Democrat cause, or looking for a conservative or liberal interpretation of the law, you would be heard. Perhaps not win, but be heard.
That was certainly what gave the New Jersey Supreme Court its outstanding reputation. Every governor, Republican or Democrat, tried to ensure a balance and often appointed justices from the other party or independents. That has changed.
With relentless determination, President Trump and Senator McConnell have pushed through conservative Republican jurist after conservative Republican jurist, several of whom were deemed unqualified for the position by their own bar associations. Brett Kavanaugh’s outburst at his hearing claiming a Democratic plot against him gave notice that anyone representing a case supported by Democrats had better be careful. With ACB’s elevation to the bench, they should think twice about even litigating such a case if they don’t want to be seen as someone who can’t win their biggest cases. Unfortunately, this isn’t just at the level of the highest court.
Hopefully, the damage isn’t permanent. Hopefully, some of the lower court judges will base their decisions purely on the facts brought before them in that case and not on personal ideology. Hopefully, we will return to a time when people can truly feel that justice is blind and when everyone, even if they don’t have a friend at the court, at least doesn’t feel that the justices are all enemies. We can only hope.