[Editor’s note: The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on President Trump’s nomination of appeals court judge Amy Coney Barrett to a lifetime appointment on the U.S. Supreme Court this Thursday. Last week, in response to the public hearings the committee held at which it heard from Barrett and a number of outside experts, two veteran journalists – Ruth Conniff of the Wisconsin Examiner and Quentin Young of Colorado Newsline — published powerful essays (reproduced below) in which they explored Barrett’s extreme views and why they should disqualify her from serving on the high court. In our judgment, both of the major the issues raised by Conniff and Young — the potential demise of the Affordable Care Act and the climate crisis — pose as great a danger to the people of North Carolina as they do to the people of Wisconsin and Colorado.]
Amy Coney Barrett is not pro-life
By Ruth Conniff
Renee Gasch, a young mother in De Pere, Wisconsin, who receives daily treatments for her thyroid cancer, is worried about what will happen to her and her family if the Affordable Care Act is overturned.
“When you’re living with cancer, toxic stress is your enemy,” Gasch said during a virtual press conference with Attorney General Josh Kaul organized by Protect Our Care Wisconsin. “And there’s nothing more stressful than thinking about the Supreme Court overturning protections for people with pre-existing conditions.”
“Before I was just worried about dying,” she added. “Now I’m afraid I’m going to bankrupt my family first.”
Protect Our Care organized the press call to discuss what’s at stake for Wisconsinites as Republicans rush to fill a Supreme Court vacancy with a nominee who has repeatedly stated her opposition to the ACA.
Ramming through Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation “will lead to harmful health consequences for people in Wisconsin and across the country,” Kaul said, pointing to the 20 million Americans who are covered by the ACA.
Barrett would join the court just in time to hear oral arguments on Nov. 10 in California v. Texas, the lawsuit led by the Trump administration and 18 Republican state attorneys general to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. If they succeed, 224,000 Wisconsinites could lose access to health care and more than 2.4 million Wisconsinites with pre-existing conditions could lose vital protections, according to the Center for American Progress.
And make no mistake, despite Barrett’s evasive answers on the ACA (and nearly every other topic), she is on the record opposing Obamacare.
In a 2017 law review article, Barrett questioned the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act and sided with Justice Antonin Scalia in his dissent from Chief Justice John Roberts and the majority in a 2012 decision arguing that the ACA’s individual mandate is a constitutional tax.
As Emergency Room physician Chris Kapsner pointed out, one in five Wisconsinites who have pre-existing conditions are at risk if the ACA is overturned.
“As an ER doctor, I know everyone needs health care,” Kapsner said during the press conference. “And the Affordable Care Act was a big step in the right direction to giving people access to world class healthcare. For the last 10 years, over 10 years, we’ve heard repeal and replace, and instead of making the Affordable Care Act better, they just want to tear it apart, and there is nothing to replace it with.”
The irony here is that Barrett is a darling of the the right because of her “pro-life” views. As Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham put it: “This is the first time in American history that we’ve nominated a woman who is unashamedly pro-life and embraces her faith without apology, and she is going to the court.”
Yet, as Renee Gasch pointed out, “what hurts … is that this Supreme Court nomination is being done in the name of the pro-life movement. But it doesn’t really feel like they’re that concerned about my life or my family’s life.”
Beyond overturning the Affordable Care Act — an unpopular cause Republicans know is a loser with voters, so they are now seeking to force it through the courts — Barrett also represents the Trump administration’s complete contempt for the lives and health of the American people during the pandemic. Celebrating her nomination at a mask-free event that appears to have accelerated the explosion of COVID-19 infections at the White House, Barrett, who has had COVID-19 herself, failed to observe basic social distancing practices. Now she is sitting through in-person confirmation hearings led by committee chairman Graham who has refused to be tested despite meeting with other Republicans who have tested positives, and who is calling on his own staff and colleagues to be in the committee room to push through her nomination despite the risk.
This lack of concern for life will forever taint Barrett’s nomination.
During the hearings, Barrett pleased her Republican backers with her calm, professional demeanor. They were (patronizingly) fascinated by how she juggles work and family. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), called her a “legal titan who drives a minivan.” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) gushed over her “wonderfully well-behaved children” and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) marveled at how she and her husband, as full-time professionals, “take care of your large family.”
All of this might be charming, were it not for that fact that so much is at stake for millions of other women, for whom Barrett’s confirmation will be an unmitigated disaster.
For, despite her many evasive answers, as Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) deftly pointed out, there is no mystery about where Barrett stands on health care or women’s fundamental reproductive rights.
Not only is Barrett an outspoken proponent of overturning Roe v. Wade, she joined a dissent when she sat on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals when the court refused to hear an appeal on then-Gov. Mike Pence’s crazy law mandating that women who had abortions or miscarriages be forced to hold funerals for their fetuses.
This is not just conservatism. It is an embrace of paternalistic government control over women’s most intimate lives.
At her Senate confirmation hearing, Barrett has done her job, maintaining her disciplined refusal to answer even the most basic questions, including whether a president should commit to a peaceful transfer of power, whether she would recuse herself from a case involving the election — which Trump has explicitly mentioned as a reason to rush through her nomination — and whether it is illegal for gun-toting “election observers” to intimidate voters at the polls.
That last question, put to Barrett by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), elicited a mealy-mouthed response from Barrett about not prejudging cases that might come before her. Klobuchar followed up by reading the actual text of the federal law. There is no ambiguity. It is a crime to intimidate voters. The least we can expect of a Supreme Court justice is to acknowledge that.
Under questioning from Harris, Trump’s nominee said, incredibly, that she had no idea that Trump has said he wanted to nominate a justice who would overturn the ACA.
Her refusal to say she would recuse herself from an election-related decision left little doubt that she would be willing to play a role in helping Trump undermine voting results in November if they don’t go his way.
This administration has done more to destroy faith in government in a shorter period of time than any administration in history. If Barrett lands on the Court after a rushed process in which she refused to commit to the most basic protections of Americans’ health, safety, and democracy she will be part of the historic undermining of the integrity of our public institutions.
Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner.
By Quentin Young
This week during Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Kamala Harris asked the witness a straightforward question to which there was exactly one correct answer: “Yes.”
The question was: “Do you believe that climate change is happening and is threatening the air we breathe and the water we drink?”
It was a lobbed pitch. But, of course, Harris asked the question only because she suspected Barrett might whiff. Barrett didn’t just whiff. She fell down in a cloud of dust.
Climate change is “a very contentious matter of public debate,” she asserted. “I will not express a view on a matter of public policy, especially one that is politically controversial.”
Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court by President Donald Trump is decried by liberal critics who fear, justifiably, that her presence on the court represents a threat to freedoms and rights Americans have come to cherish or aspire to achieve, including those related to reproduction, ballot access, health care and civil rights.
Her views on the warming planet are much less discussed. But Barrett’s primitive grasp of climate science is a flaw beyond the many others that mar her nomination and should be disqualifying. It’s one thing for a justice to maintain backward judicial positions or legal interpretations. But it is intolerable for a justice, whose whole job is to weigh the facts of a case against the law, to reject the most significant fact to which humanity must respond.
Barrett’s exchange with Harris occurred on Wednesday. Also on Wednesday, the Cameron Peak Fire grew to more than 160,000 acres, making it the largest wildfire in Colorado history. It has destroyed or damaged scores of structures. The Cameron Peak Fire overtook the Pine Gulch Fire, which only weeks earlier had claimed the state’s largest-ever spot. That means the largest two wildfires in Colorado history occurred just within the last several months, and they’re still active. The Mullen Fire, which is mainly situated in Wyoming but has stretched into Colorado by thousands of acres, is, at more than 176,000 acres, bigger than either Pine Gulch or Cameron Peak. Every one of the 10 largest wildfires in Colorado history have occurred during the last 18 years.
The driver behind the increase in Colorado wildfire activity is no mystery. It’s climate change. No serious person disputes this. Rising temperatures have contributed to a drought in the Southwest that’s generally concurrent with the growth in wildfire risk and is so persistent that some scientists treat the term “drought” as inadequate and view the phenomenon as the “aridification” or “desertification” of the region. Hotter, drier conditions make Colorado forests vulnerable to bigger and more frequent fires.
Is the air we breathe and the water we drink threatened, as Harris inquired?
Residents on the Front Range all know the answer to this question. They have spent weeks under advisories of unsafe atmospheric conditions as smoke from fires in Colorado and even farther west has continued to foul the air. Water managers who provide services to residents in Fort Collins and other communities that rely on the Cache la Poudre River have warned of the threat that the Cameron Peak Fire represents to water quality. The ash and sediment that wildfires can introduce into watersheds puts local drinking water supplies at risk.
The wildfire trend is hardly unique to Colorado. California in 2020, as of this writing, has experienced five of its 10 largest fires since 1935. More than 4 million acres have burned in that state. The fires have destroyed 9,200 structures and killed 31 people. “The fire season in California and across the West is starting earlier and ending later each year,” says the state of California’s Cal Fire. “Climate change is considered a key driver of this trend.”
Climate change is not a “matter of public debate.” It is an urgent threat to the lives and livelihoods of every Coloradan. This is a fact.
Sen. Cory Gardner has faced criticism for his apparent disdain for action on climate change and his reliability as a friend of the fossil fuel industry. As his first term in office comes to a close, he has made efforts to appear more concerned with the environment, such as the way he championed the Great American Outdoors Act. If his position on climate change has at all evolved, he will vote against Barrett’s confirmation, if only to protest her climate change denialism. There’s no expectation that Gardner is capable of taking such a principled stance, but a vote to confirm a climate change denier to the Supreme Court will also confirm that whatever environmentalism he espouses is little more than campaign posturing.
No person who rejects the scientific reality of human-caused climate change is fit for public office of any kind. That goes for city council members, county commissioners, General Assembly members, governors, House and Senate members and presidents. And it goes for Supreme Court justices. The court next year will hear a case in which Baltimore is suing oil companies for damages due to climate change. Other climate change-related cases will reach the court. A conservative majority could seek to overturn Massachusetts v. EPA, which with a 5-4 decision assigned responsibility for regulating greenhouse gas emissions to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The court will not be competent to decide such cases if justices are immune to the life-and-death facts of climate change. Coloradans need only look out their windows to understand that climate change is all too real.
Quentin Young is the editor of Colorado Newsline.