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Swearing In Of Supreme Court Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett
Amy Coney Barrett, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, right, and President Donald Trump stand on the Blue Room balcony of the White House during a ceremony on Oct. 26, 2020.Al Drago / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Why Amy Coney Barrett's new rhetoric is so hard to take seriously

Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett is the wrong messenger, with the wrong message, speaking at the wrong place.


It's been nearly a year since Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the U.S. Supreme Court, and as the Associated Press reported overnight, the conservative jurist is apparently concerned about public perceptions regarding the high court.

Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett expressed concerns Sunday that the public may increasingly see the court as a partisan institution. Justices must be "hyper vigilant to make sure they're not letting personal biases creep into their decisions, since judges are people, too," Barrett said at a lecture hosted by the University of Louisville's McConnell Center.

She added that "judicial philosophies are not the same as political parties."

There's a lot to unpack here, but let's focus on three core problems.

First, the justice's message was literally unbelievable. Ideally, justices would be indifferent toward political considerations, but in recent years, the public has seen far too much contrary evidence. Consider, for example, the overtly political speech Justice Samuel Alito delivered last fall to the Federalist Society.

Second, Barrett may not appreciate the extent to which she's a poor messenger. It was in late-October 2020 – while voting in the presidential election was already underway in many states – when a divided Senate, voting along largely partisan lines, confirmed the conservative jurist to the nation's highest court. Her first decision was not a judicial ruling; it was a choice to participate at a White House political event the evening of her confirmation.

As we discussed at the time, Donald Trump hosted a prime-time spectacle with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer: Barrett stood in the spotlight, on a White House balcony in front of the presidential seal, alongside Trump who beamed with pride before an applauding audience, which included Republican senators who ignored their ostensible principles while confirming her.

Barrett was aware of the electoral context; she knew this prime-time celebration would give the appearance of a political victory party; and she chose to participate anyway, indifferent to public perceptions about the politicization of the judiciary.

In the months that followed, Barrett voted largely as she was expected to, including in the recent case that ended Roe v. Wade protections in Texas.

But let's also not overlook the context of her remarks yesterday: Barrett appeared in Kentucky, where she was introduced by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Republican who's done more to politicize the federal judiciary than any living American.

During her remarks at the McConnell Center, Barrett spoke just feet away from the GOP senator who was responsible for orchestrating the brazenly partisan scheme that led to her confirmation.

If the justice is concerned about the public perceiving the Supreme Court as a partisan institution, she should've turned down McConnell's invitation instead of making the problem worse.