Amidst the polarizing landscape of modern American politics, Justice Amy Coney Barrett of the United States Supreme Court is concerned that perhaps the public is viewing the Supreme Court as a political and subjective institution. Barrett, however, argues that the Supreme Court has varying views on “judicial philosophies” as opposed to political viewpoints.
Justice Barrett gave a lecture at the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville in Kentucky where she stated that the purpose of her lecture was “to convince you that this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks” (Courier Journal).
Barrett mentioned that how the media portrays Supreme Court decisions negatively impacts the public perception of the objectivity of the court. “It leaves the reader to judge whether the court was right or wrong, based on whether she liked the results of the decision,” said Barrett.
Regarding Justice’s remaining objective, she said that they have to remain “hyper vigilant to make sure they’re not letting personal biases creep into their decisions, since judges are people, too” (Associated Press). Barrett made it a point to assure her audience that “judicial philosophies are not the same as political parties.”
In terms of public perception, however, it may be difficult for the public not to see the Supreme Court as political or biased, being as a justice is nominated by the sitting President of the United States, an innately political figure. In 2016, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked the senate confirmation for then-President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court Justice nominee, Merrick Garland.
McConnell’s reasoning was “given that we are in the midst of the presidential election process, we believe that the American people should seize the opportunity to weigh in on whom they trust to nominate the next person for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court” (USA Today) by waiting for the next president to nominate a justice.
However, this was not a consistent stance for McConnell as Justice Barrett was confirmed to the Supreme Court just one week before the 2020 presidential election. Former President Donald Trump nominated Justice Barrett and when the US senate held the vote for Barrett, it was a 52-48 decision, where every Democrat senator voted against Barrett and every Republican Senator voted in favor of Barrett, except for Senator Susan Collins of Maine.
Justice Barrett believes that the public perception of the objectivity of the Supreme Court must be maintained and that the Supreme Court is not a political entity. In an August 2020 poll, 70% of Americans had a favorable view on the Supreme Court.