One Year On, Amy Coney Barrett Is About To Play Crucial Role on Abortion

Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett will celebrate one year as a member of the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, with the nation's highest court braced to tackle cases of huge significance.

Barrett formally became a member of the Court on October 27, 2020 following a highly controversial nomination process that saw her confirmed by the Senate just eight days before the presidential election.

The 49-year-old has cemented the power of the Court's conservative wing and helped to create a 6-3 conservative majority that has seen Chief Justice John Roberts increasingly sidelined in divided decisions.

The 6-3 Court

Barrett's appointment has had a major impact on the composition of the Court. Since September last year, the Court has had six conservative justices and three liberals, which has effectively moved it to the right.

Previously, the Court was divided 5-4 between conservatives and liberals with Roberts, a conservative, acting as the crucial swing vote and siding with the liberal wing in some key cases.

However, Roberts' influence has waned now there are five other conservatives on the Court. On September 1, the Court voted 5-4 not to grant a stay of a controversial six-week abortion ban in Texas. Roberts joined the liberals in the minority, while Barrett joined the majority.

The Future of Roe

Barrett's vote will likely be crucial in deciding the future of abortion rights in the U.S.

During her confirmation hearings last year, Barrett avoided giving her view on the landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which found a constitutional right to abortion. Critics argued at the time that Barrett's confirmation would endanger abortion rights.

The Court has expedited a review of the Texas abortion ban and will hear a case next month in a rare decision to speed up the judicial process. Attorneys for Texas had asked the justices to consider overruling Roe and the subsequent case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, but they have declined to do so at this time.

However, the Court's decision in the Texas case could have major implications for Roe if a majority of the justices decide a six-week abortion ban is constitutional. The Court will also hear a direct challenge to Roe later this year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization.

It remains to be seen how the justices will vote or if the 6-3 divide will be the decisive factor in the cases, but Barrett's vote will be crucial and could reignite debate about her controversial confirmation.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Merrick Garland

When Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on September 18, 2020, then-President Donald Trump had the opportunity to nominate her successor.

Ginsburg was perhaps the most prominent member of the Court's liberal wing as well enjoying something of a celebrity status among progressives.

Though it was always understood that Trump would nominate a conservative, Barrett's appointment was the focus of criticism because it came so close to the 2020 presidential election.

In 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had refused to hold hearings on then-President Barack Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland. At the time, Republicans controlled the Senate, while the president was a Democrat.

McConnell argued that the nomination should not proceed during an election year and Garland was not confirmed. Instead, the vacant seat was filled by Trump's nomination of Neil Gorsuch in 2017.

In 2020, Senate Republicans pressed ahead with Barrett's confirmation process despite the fact it was an election year. Democrats accused Republicans of hypocrisy and boycotted a Senate Judiciary Committee vote. Then Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said: "The nomination of Amy Coney Barrett is the most illegitimate process I have ever witnessed in the Senate."

McConnell had suggested in 2019 that if the same party controlled the Senate and the White House in an election year, then a Supreme Court nominee could be confirmed. That was the situation in 2020 and the Senate confirmed Barrett by a vote of 52-48 on October 26.

Barrett took the first of two necessary oaths during a televised event at the White House on October 26, 2020 and the second was administered by Chief Justice Roberts in a private ceremony on October 27, marking her formal addition to the Court.

One year on, Barrett's vote will be a key factor in deciding key abortion cases and her views will have national implications.

Barrett Poses for a Photo in 2020
Then Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett poses for a photo with junior United States Senator James Lankford (R-OK) on Capitol Hill on October 21, 2020 in Washington, DC. Barrett has been on the Court one year as of Wednesday. Leigh Vogel-Pool/Getty Images