Last week, the Senate voted to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
The vote was on party lines and with this confirmation, the Supreme Court will have a six to three conservative majority.
Nominated by President Donald Trump, Barrett is now the third justice on the Supreme Court that he has appointed. Since justices can remain on the court for life, this will shape U.S policy for decades to come.
Let’s see how the Supreme Court works and how it may change with Barrett as a justice.
The History of the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court was founded in the Constitution as the head of the judicial branch of government. Its duty was to interpret the law by reviewing individual cases.
The Court was initially made up of six justices (later expanded to nine) appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The justices got lifelong terms, which was supposed to keep them apolitical, as parties rotated in and out of government.
The Court’s importance ballooned in 1803 when it established judicial review, which is the ability to determine whether a law is Constitutional or not. If the Court deemed a law unconstitutional, the government could not push forward a similar law unless the Constitution was amended or the Court turned over its previous ruling.
Due to its power of judicial review, the Court became a hub for controversial social issues. It ruled that segregation was constitutional in Plessy v. Ferguson and later overturned it in Brown v. Board of Education. It determined that restricting abortion was unconstitutional in Roe v. Wade in 1973, a victory for feminist activists and loss for social conservatives.
The Court’s Future
Going forward, the Supreme Court will be weighing on important cases concerning voting rights, abortion, and Obamacare.
Previously, with a 5-4 conservative majority, Chief Justice John Roberts was a swing vote who would occasionally support the liberal side of the Court. As Barrett has expressed anti-abortion views and criticized past rulings upholding Obamacare, liberals fear that she will implement those views in future rulings.
In the longer run, Barrett believes in the philosophy of "originalism" in the judiciary. Originalism proposes that judges interpret the law based on what the people who framed it originally meant, not the way it has evolved. However, many African-Americans claim the laws were framed at a time when their ancestors were slaves without rights. There is also a concern that originalists are opposed to government regulations in areas such as climate change, pollution, workplace safety, etc.
Though Barrett’s appointment does not create an originalist majority, it does deepen the conservative voice in the court. It could shift landmark laws to the right of where the majority of Americans lie. Now, the country can only wait to see how this new Court will change their lives.
Sources: History, Vox, Business Insider, New York Times, Northeastern University