May 9, 2021

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3 key rulings are a window into the views of Trump Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett

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After the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the White House is moving ahead with a nominee to fill the open seat. On Friday night, President Trump nominated to the Supreme Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago.

Coney Barrett is already a Trump judicial nominee; the President appointed her to her current seat in 2017 with a 55-43 Senate confirmation vote. A former clerk for late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Coney Barrett is known as an originalist and for her career in academia.

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A few specific cases—and her rulings and dissents related to them, as highlighted by SCOTUS Blog—also shed light on how Coney Barrett would approach her purview on the nation’s highest bench.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, Inc. v. Commissioner, Indiana State Department of Health, et al.

This case, colloquially referred to as Indiana, is one of two times the issue of abortion has come before Coney Barrett during her tenure on the 7th circuit.

The suit concerned an Indiana law that barred abortions performed for reasons related to sex, race, or disability—like if a woman chose to end a pregnancy after learning her fetus had Down syndrome.

When the case made its way in front of Coney Barrett, she was being asked to consider a separate portion of the law concerning the disposal of fetal remains (other Republican judicial appointees had decided other questions about the law, coming down in opposition to the legislation). However, Coney Barrett chose to add an additional unsolicited opinion, writing that “none of the Court’s abortion decisions holds that states are powerless to prevent abortions designed to choose the sex, race, and other attributes of children.”

The unprompted opinion suggests the strength of Coney Barrett’s opposition to abortion rights.

Doe v. Purdue University

On a three-woman panel of judges, Coney Barrett in 2019 wrote a ruling in Doe v. Purdue University that “made it easier for students accused of sexual assault to challenge universities’ handling of their cases,” reports the Washington Post.

The case considered a lawsuit over a sexual assault allegation in which a woman identified as Jane Doe accused a man identified as John Doe of assault; John Doe had been found guilty of sexual violence by an internal university ruling and was expelled from the school. John Doe sued Purdue over his expulsion and the loss of his scholarship; Coney Barrett’s ruling determined that his case could move forward and that he may have been discriminated against because of his gender. “It is plausible that [university officials] chose to believe Jane because she is a woman and to disbelieve John because he is a man,” the judge wrote.

Coney Barrett came to the conclusion that John Doe could have been discriminated against because of his gender because of the Obama Administration’s guidance instructing universities to take sexual assault on campus seriously, according to Emily Martin, VP for education and workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center; by the time of Coney Barrett’s opinion in this case, many conservative activists had objected to that Obama-era guidance. The connection Coney Barrett makes in her argument provides some insight into how she views issues of both gender discrimination and sexual assault.

“The idea that taking sexual misconduct seriously suggests sex discrimination against men,” Martin says, “is a disturbing way of using the language of sex discrimination as a sword against efforts to address sexual assault.”

Kanter v. Barr

The 2019 case Kanter v. Barr concerned gun rights. Rickey Kanter, who owned an orthopedic footwear company, was convicted of mail fraud over false representation of his product. After that conviction, as a felon, he was deemed ineligible to own a gun; he sued over that limitation, arguing that as a non-violent felon the restriction violated his Second Amendment rights.

The majority decided against Kanter, but Coney Barrett dissented. The judge wrote the restriction on a felon owning a gun was too broad—that a felony makes someone eligible to have their Second Amendment right taken away, not that they automatically lose that right. Conviction for nonviolent crimes should not lose a citizen their right to bear arms, the judge said.

The dissent does not seem to reflect a willingness on Coney Barrett’s part to restore other kinds of rights—like voting rights—to those who are convicted of felonies. She has argued that voting and jury service are rights for a smaller group of “virtuous citizens,” while gun rights should only be restricted based on whether or not a person is dangerous.

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