Amy Coney Barrett could no longer avoid the question that has defined her nomination to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court: “Do you agree,” asked Senator Dianne Feinstein of California during confirmation hearings today, “that Roe was wrongly decided?”
“I completely understand why you are asking the question,” Barrett responded, looking grave. But “I can’t pre-commit or say, ‘Yes, I’m going in with some agenda,’ because I’m not. I don’t have any agenda.” The question may be unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean she will answer it.
We will not know by the end of Barrett’s nomination hearings how she would rule on an abortion-related case. Nearly 50 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that American women have a constitutional right to end their pregnancies, and since then, the boundaries of the abortion debate have largely been determined by nine unelected justices who have no accountability to voters. For many years, as the Court has continued to uphold abortion rights, this fact has frustrated conservatives, many of whom want the justices to overturn Roe and return the question to the states to decide.
Now that conservatives are winning and are about to hold a definitive majority on the Supreme Court bench, however, liberals are exasperated that they have little ability to get Barrett on the record about what she might do regarding abortion. Barrett maintains that she will be a fair justice and can be trusted to uphold the rule of law, while Democrats have depicted her as a committed conservative ideologue who will surely undermine abortion rights in the United States. The only way to know the answer is to wait and see what she does on the bench, after her lifetime appointment is secure.