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Controversy in Appointing Justice Amy Coney Barret

Following controversy over the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Alina Sterenfeld (12th) clears up where the different opinions lie. 

By: Alina Sterenfeld (12th Grade)

In the spring of 2016, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away, leaving a vacancy on the Supreme Court bench. President Barack Obama appointed Merrick B. Garland to fill Scalia’s seat, but the nomination was immediately rejected by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Considering the appointment too close to the upcoming presidential election, McConnell declared the nomination “null and void” and stated that the vacancy should not be filled until after the elections. He argued that the American people deserved a voice in choosing the next justice. This was eight months before Election Day 2016. 

Following the recent death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, President Donald Trump appointed Amy Coney Barrett, his third Supreme Court Justice pick in his four years in office. Rather than reject the nomination though, as they did in 2016, the Republican-majority Senate, still led by Mitch McConnell, approved. Following the subsequent confirmation hearings, Justice Barrett was installed as Supreme Court Justice. This was only a few weeks before Election Day 2020. 

Here is where the controversy arises. Those on the left argue that the approval of Barett’s nomination is blatantly hypocritical, and the seat left open by the death of RBG should have remained empty until after November 3. This would allow the 2020 president, whether he be Donald Trump or Joe Biden, to choose his Supreme Court Justice. Those on the right, however, argue that the approval of the nomination is wholly Constitutional and simply following precedent. 

Article II, Section II of the Constitution grants the President the right to appoint a Justice when a vacancy arises, and then gives the right to the Senate to either confirm or deny that pick. In 2016, the predominantly Republican Senate denied President Obama’s nomination, as President Obama, being a Democrat, chose nominee Garland who was more left of center. In 2020 however, because President Trump’s Republican party controls the Senate, it approved his nomination of conservative Barrett. In both scenarios, the Senate acted Constitutionally on their right to approve or deny the President’s nomination. 

The key reason why the nominations present such a large controversy today is because of the importance of the Supreme Court. In fact, judicial power is so supreme that justices are given lifetime appointments to ensure their individuality in decision making, aiming to prevent party politics from becoming the determining factor of any verdict. However, the rejection for Garland’s nomination in 2016 and the approval for Barrett’s nomination in 2020 exposes just how much party politics are actually at play. Despite acting Constitutionally, the Senate’s actions make many question the validity of American democracy. 

While Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s installment as Supreme Court Justice followed Constitutional protocol, her appointment presents an issue to some on the values of this country such as democracy, political self-interest, and the people’s right to be part of the political discussion.

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