The Irish Times view on the US supreme court: securing Trump’s legacy

The biggest loser in this game of political football is the reputation of the court itself

Amy Coney Barrett has been sworn in to the US supreme court. The confirmation of Barrett, US president Donald Trump's third supreme court nominee, took place just eight days before the US election. Video: Reuters

 

On Monday, eight days before the presidential vote, the US supreme court’s conservative majority rejected a bid to extend Wisconsin’s deadline for receiving absentee ballots. It gave its ruling as President Trump continued to attack mail-in voting, which Democrats are using more heavily this year.

In the White House, Trump copperfastened that conservative majority – now 6-3 – by swearing in Judge Amy Coney Barrett, his third nominee to the court, after a lightning Senate approval that, for the first time in 151 years, saw a member confirmed without a single opposition vote.

At 48, Coney Barrett may sit for life on the court with those recent young nominees, guaranteeing a generational shift in the jurisprudence of the court which is so central to most of the key political and social decisions the country faces. In the immediate future, as Trump has enthusiastically proclaimed, she may have to rule on a number of key election issues like that in Wisconsin, or the election itself. As well as the demand of the Manhattan district attorney to open the president’s tax filings. Then there’s Barack Obama’s landmark Affordable Care Act and the future of abortion rights – both, she has made clear, reviewable by the court although, particularly in the latter case, well-established precedent.

Coney Barett was careful not to express opinions on any controversial issues at her Senate hearings, and to insist that she remains independent of the president. But her appeal court record and that of most of the court’s reliable conservative majority would suggest that Trump’s judicial crusade at all levels of the courts has succeeded, as the New York Times argues, in turning “the courts from a counter-majoritarian shield that protects the rights of minorities to an anti-democratic sword to wield against popular progressive legislation like the Affordable Care Act”.

Democrats are discussing the possibility, if they win a Senate majority, of increasing the size of the court to pack it with sympathetic judges. The biggest loser in this game of political football is the reputation of the court itself.

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