Watch CBS News

Keller @ Large: Questions About Judge Amy Coney Barrett

BOSTON (CBS) - With the news that President Trump plans to nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court come questions. Here are a few, and some attempts at answers:

Q: What's the deal with Judge Barrett?

A: She's a "qualified" lawyer and jurist "who is respected even by lawyers who disagree with her," writes the Los Angeles Times editorial board in a piece arguing against her confirmation.

There are two major areas of concern about her.

First, the bare-knuckle, hypocrisy-encrusted politics of her appointment. Writes the Times:

"Given the nearness of election day and the fact that he already has installed two conservatives on the court, Trump could have made the conciliatory gesture of choosing an older jurist without a pronounced ideological profile. Instead, he selected Barrett, 48, whose record leads conservatives to hope — and liberals to fear — that she would cement a conservative majority on the courts for decades to come on issues ranging from affirmative action to gun control to immigration."

And there are also some legitimate questions about whether or not her religious beliefs unduly influence her legal analysis.

Amy Coney Barrett
Judge Amy Coney Barrett (WBZ-TV)

During her 2017 confirmation hearings to the federal Circuit Court, Coney Barrett told senators there was "no conflict between having a sincerely held faith and duties as a judge" and she vowed to "never impose my own personal convictions upon the law."

But The Times notes a couple of dissents she filed in just the last couple of years that express conservative political views on abortion and gun control. In the latter case, Barrett opposed stripping a businessman guilty of mail fraud of his gun license, claiming such action against a nonviolent felon "relegated the Second Amendment to the status of 'a second-class right.'"

These issues – along with some concerns about her membership in a charismatic group named People of Praise described by members as a lay movement in the Catholic Church – will be the focus of the confirmation hearings to come.

Q: President Trump said this week he wanted to rush this appointment through so there would be the full nine justices on the Supreme Court in case they had to rule on what he called the mail-in voting "scam." Would Coney Barrett be a pawn in a Trump effort to overturn the election result?

A: You never say never about our civic life anymore, and I can't find anything she's said on the record about voter fraud. But while the president's remarks were crude and self-indicting, appointment to the Supreme Court is the crowning achievement of a lawyer's career and is made for life to insulate the justices from crass political manipulation. Based on the behavior of past justices, including Trump appointees, there's every reason to believe that they take their power very seriously and are disinclined to act or be seen as sycophants of any politician, even the one who elevated them.

Coney Barrett should be asked if she'd feel obligated to give weight to Trump's rantings. I'd be stunned if she said anything other than no.

Q: Will this whole Supreme Court drama be a major factor in the election outcome?

A: It's front and center down the stretch, so voters who pay any attention to the news will surely hear about it. And there's no way of predicting how millions of them will react, especially given the unpredictability of the confirmation process.

True partisans and activists for and against abortion rights, gun control and other issues likely to be raised here will be even further inflamed. The smaller numbers who really care about process and the hypocrisy of hustling her through while Merrick Garland was denied will be livid. But I find it hard to believe that the pandemic and its evil companion, the economic collapse, won't remain the determinative issues of this election.

There is no distraction from those twin catastrophes. They have taken an incumbent who seemed a decent bet for reelection and dumped him at the precipice of defeat.

Look for Joe Biden to make short work of any debate questions about Coney Barrett and pivot immediately back to the 200,000-plus dead on Trump's careless watch.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.