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Justice Barrett Challenges Partisanship Accusations, Blasts Media In Louisville Talk

SCOTUS Justice Amy Coney Barrett speaks during a McConnell Center event.
SCOTUS Justice Amy Coney Barrett speaks during a McConnell Center event.

There is no partisanship on the U.S. Supreme Court — that’s the message Associate Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett wanted audience members to take away from her talk Sunday afternoon at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville. Barrett was the guest speaker for a 30th anniversary celebration for University of Louisville’s McConnell Center.

“My goal today is to convince you that the Court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks,” Barrett said before an audience of a couple hundred invited guests. She argued justices are driven by their judicial philosophies rather than partisan ideologies. 

Her comments come after a controversial Supreme Court ruling refusing to block a Texas law that prevents abortions after six weeks. 

Barrett described herself as an “originalist.”

“According to the originalist, the people are the agents of change, and judges’ job is to apply the Constitution’s original meaning—no more no less. To do otherwise, the originalist argues, is for the Court to impose its own vision of a common good on the country.”

Meanwhile, Barrett said, Stephen Breyer and other justices considered liberal are judicial “pragmatists.”

“They have a more robust view of the judicial role,” she said. “Sometimes it's appropriate, the pragmatist says, for judges to bring the Constitution into line with modern values. The Constitution is difficult to amend. And so if the Court doesn't do some of the updating, how will it change?”

Barrett said the Court was a “warm, collegial place,” and blamed the media for pushing a narrative that the Court is partisan.

“The media, along with hot takes on Twitter, report the results of decisions,” she said, arguing that the media’s focus on the impact of SCOTUS decisions leaves out the nuances of how justices come to their conclusions.

“It leaves the reader to judge whether the Court was right or wrong based on whether she likes the results of the decision,” Barrett said. “But here's something that again might surprise you: I don’t always like the results of my decisions … The measure of a judicial decision is whether its reasoning is sound.”

Barrett said she would not talk about the Court’s latest controversial ruling on the Texas abortion ban. But she implied the decision was not “characterized fairly in the press.”

Barrett sided with the majority on the 5-4 decision. She and the Court’s other conservative justices refused to block the law over “procedural questions,” but left the door open to hear the case on its merits in the future.

Justice Breyer, who dissented, has criticized the ruling as “very, very, very wrong."

The decision was a red flag for abortion rights activists who worry it signals the Court’s intent to undo the landmark Roe V. Wade decision. That 1973 SCOTUS ruling has protected women’s right to abortion.

Frances Weinstock was among a couple dozen abortion rights protesters gathered outside the Seelbach.

“My message is to get their hands out of the abortion issue, and to let those women who want to have abortions have them — because that is their right in the United States of America,” she said.

Some protesters accused Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of injecting partisanship into the Court when he blocked former President Barack Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland in 2016.

“If McConnell had permitted the Senate to act, as it always has, Garland would be on the Supreme Court — Trump would have had two appointees, not three,” protester Russ Vandenbroucke said. “What [McConnell] did was unforgettable and inexcusable.”

McConnell was at the event, along with former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, Kentucky Secretary of State Mike Adams and University of Louisville President Neeli Bendapudi.

Bendapudi praised McConnell for founding the McConnell Center, which gives scholarships and leadership training to a group of high-achieving U of L students each year. She called McConnell a “fierce, loyal and unflinching friend to the university.”

Press were allowed at the event but were not permitted to record audio or video other than for note-taking purposes. Reporters were not allowed to ask questions.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.