Barrett Vows Judicial Independence During Swearing-In Ceremony

October 27, 2020 Updated: October 27, 2020

Amy Coney Barrett vowed to remain independent from political pressure and policy preferences and to carry out her duty “without any fear or favor” during a speech shortly after being sworn-in the newest associate justice of the Supreme Court.

Barrett said that the confirmation process, while rigorous, made clear the fundamental difference between the judicial and legislative branches.

“The confirmation process has made ever clearer to me one of the fundamental differences between the federal judiciary and the United States Senate,” Barrett said. “And perhaps the most acute is the role of policy preferences. It is the job of a senator to pursue her policy preferences. In fact, it would be a dereliction of duty for her to put policy goals aside. By contrast, it is the job of a judge to resist her policy preferences. It would be a dereliction of duty for her to give in to them.”

She continued, “Federal judges don’t stand for election, thus they have no basis for claiming that her preferences reflect those of the people.

“This separation of duty is what makes the judiciary distinct among the three branches of government. A judge declares independence, not only from Congress and the president, but also from the private beliefs that might otherwise move her. The judicial oath captures the essence of the judicial duty—the rule of law must always control,” she added.

Judicial independence was a crucial theme during both rounds of confirmation hearings for Barrett, in 2017 and 2020. During her 2017 confirmation hearing for her nomination to the 7th Circuit Court, Senate Democrats pressed the then-professor about her religious beliefs in order to determine whether Barrett could separate her religious views from her legal opinions. They were worried that her faith would affect her impartiality as a judge, especially in cases where moral questions are key, such as abortion and death penalty cases.

In the most recent confirmation hearing for her nomination to the Supreme Court, Senate Democrats urged her to commit to recusing from cases related to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, and potential 2020 presidential election disputes.

Democrats made a case during the hearings that Barrett was nominated by President Donald Trump to carry out his agenda to overturn the ACA and help him in potential cases relating to the upcoming election. The timing of Barrett’s nomination meant that she could be confirmed in time to join the Supreme Court to hear oral arguments on Nov. 10 in a case that seeks to invalidate the ACA.

Throughout the hearings, she asserted her judicial independence and told senators that she has “had no conversations with the president or any of the staff on how I might rule in that case.”

“It would be a gross violation of judicial independence for me to make any such commitment, or for me to be asked about that case and how I would rule,” Barrett said while stressing that it would be a “complete violation” of the independence of the judiciary for anyone to appoint a justice on the top court for the purposes of “obtaining a particular result.”

Barrett was confirmed to the nation’s top court after the full Senate voted 52–48 largely along party lines to confirm the then-judge. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was the sole Republican to join all Democrats in voting against the nominee after Alaskan Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) indicated over the weekend she would vote “yes” to confirm.

Her confirmation followed a 30-hour debate on the upper house floor that began on Oct. 25 after the nomination cleared a procedural hurdle, also largely along party lines, to limit debate.

Barrett was sworn in by Justice Clarence Thomas, who administered the constitutional oath. The ceremony, which was held in the South Lawn with social distancing measures, was hosted by the president.

Chief Justice John Roberts administered the Judicial Oath to Barrett on Tuesday, which means she can now officially start work at the Supreme Court. A formal investiture ceremony will take place at a later date, the court said in a statement on Monday night.

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