Court Battles

Senate Democrats blast Supreme Court on one-year anniversary of Barrett’s confirmation

Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett participates in a photo op with Chief Justice John Roberts after Barrett’s investiture ceremony at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Friday, October 1, 2021.
Greg Nash

A year after Justice Amy Coney Barrett was nominated by then-President Trump and confirmed to the Supreme Court, a group of Senate Democrats issued a report blasting the new 6-3 conservative majority’s efforts to “reshape American law” to further partisan interests.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) released a report on Tuesday on Tuesday, the one-year anniversary of Barrett’s confirmation vote, summing up the conservative victories the new majority has achieved and warning of an assault on constitutional rights.

The report is the latest in a series of assessments from the Democrats on the conservatives’ foothold in the federal judiciary, attributing their success to an influential right-wing legal network led by groups like the Federalist Society, whose membership ranks provided many of Trump’s judicial appointees.

“Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation was just the latest success for these dark-money actors, and all signs point toward the Court continuing its assault on our Constitution and the American people going forward,” reads the report, a copy of which was provided to The Hill before its publication.

The senators reviewed some of the court’s major rulings from the 2020 term, the first in which conservatives held their current 6-3 majority, highlighting cases in which the court sided with business groups over labor unions, struck down voting measures intended to increase ballot access amid a pandemic and upheld immigration restrictions.

The report also criticizes the conservative majority’s handling of the controversial Texas “heartbeat” law known as S.B. 8, which prohibits abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, typically around six weeks of pregnancy, before many women realize they are pregnant.

Last month, the court in a 5-4 ruling allowed the law to go into effect, forcing many of the state’s abortion clinics to shutter their doors. The ruling ignited intense criticism from Democrats and reproductive rights activists who said it was contrary to the court’s landmark rulings in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which affirmed a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.

The court will hear another challenge to the law from the Biden administration on Nov. 1, and in December it will hear a case involving another restrictive abortion law in Mississippi.

In both lawsuits, the states are asking the court to overturn Roe and Casey, a scenario that Democrats warned was the ultimate goal of the conservative legal movement’s aggressive judicial confirmation efforts under Trump.

“The Court’s handling of S.B. 8 is just the latest example of a partisan Supreme Court stopping at nothing to impose its radical agenda on the American people,” the Democrats’ report released on Tuesday reads.

The three Democrats stopped short of endorsing the growing calls on the left to structurally reform the Supreme Court through court packing or term limits in order to nullify the threat from the emboldened majority.

Instead, they called on Congress to pass legislation that would codify rights endangered by the bench’s ideological balance, such as abortion and ballot access, and impose strict ethical requirements on the Supreme Court and the rest of the judiciary to expose and insulate the courts from big-money influence.

The senators also called on President Biden’s Supreme Court commission to explore how to address what they see as a partisan takeover of the bench and its effects on longstanding precedents, saying it “has not yet given these issues the attention they deserve.”

“Even if the Commission fails to live up to this challenge, Congress, President Biden, and the American people must not,” the report reads. “Court capture succeeded because we were not prepared for the scope and relentlessness of the dark-money machine. Consequently, its effects on our country and our values have been devastating. If we want to resist these special interests, the time for action must be now.

“Protecting our Constitution, our democracy, our people, and our environment from this assault will require clear-eyed thinking about the broad threat the dark-money machine and its Court pose, bold solutions for responding to this threat, and decisive actions to implement those solutions,” it continued. “We can rise to meet this obligation, but we cannot wait until irreparable damage is done.”

Tags Abortion Amy Coney Barrett Charles Schumer Chuck Schumer Debbie Stabenow Donald Trump Joe Biden Roe v. Wade Sheldon Whitehouse Supreme Court

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