Amy Coney Barrett, the Supreme Court, and COVID-19: A Case of Misplaced Priorities

Laura Peralta-Schulte
October 12, 2020

Right now, families and communities across the United States are in crisis. With the COVID-19 pandemic spiraling out of control and a pronounced economic slowdown, the nation’s health and economic security are at high risk. The new Census Household Pulse Survey data released last week shows that since late August the overall number of adults struggling to cover usual household expenses such as food, rent or mortgage, car payments, medical expenses, or student loans is expanding rapidly. Nearly 77 million adults – 1 in 3 – reported it was somewhat or very difficult for their household to cover usual expenses in the past seven days, according to data collected September 16-28. Meanwhile, federal supplemental unemployment benefits have run out for millions of people who have lost their jobs, many permanently. Without federal action, jobless workers grappling with sharply reduced incomes will face growing challenges paying their bills. As Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said recently: “Too little support would lead to a weak recovery, creating unnecessary hardship for households and businesses…Even if policy actions ultimately prove to be greater than needed, they will not go to waste.”

It is against this backdrop that President Trump and Senator McConnell announced this week they are stopping negotiations with Speaker Pelosi and House leadership on a COVID-19 relief package and instead focusing solely on plans to confirm Trump’s nominee Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. The Senate has failed to provide any meaningful coronavirus relief legislation since April 2020 – nearly half a year has passed with unnecessary suffering and death due to this lack of response. Urgent action should be taken to alleviating the suffering and economic distress of the people experiencing this crisis, but instead the Senate is engaged in high stakes partisan politics.

NETWORK strongly opposes a hasty confirmation process the Senate is conducting so close to a national election in which many Americans will have already cast their ballot. The timing disregards the voice of the electorate and undermines trust in our democratic institutions, which is already fragile. There is a real cost to tarnishing the national perception of Congress and the presidency by focusing on expediting a Supreme Court nominee while failing to attend to the protracted national suffering.

During this fragile time in our nation, it is vital that our national leaders act with prudence rather than political posturing. Our democratic institutions are maintained by norms and tradition to uphold the balance of powers between the three branches of government. There is no precedent for allowing a president to have such extraordinary influence over the outcome of the next federal election, which he is already threatening to contest. The one at risk of facing judgment should not get to choose the judges.

A fast-tracked confirmation process of Judge Barrett is a clear abdication of the Senate’s constitutional advice-and-consent function. It jeopardizes the rights and lives of the most vulnerable among us and it undermines the integrity of our most basic democratic norms and institutions.

October 2020 feels like a tipping point for our democracy –the fatigue and hardship of the people, the cynicism and division of the civic body, the disinformation inundating the public is palpable. Just because one party has the constitutional right to seize power in a situation does not justify the damage it will do to our civic fabric.  The rush to hold Supreme Court hearings at this time, before this particular election is ill-advised and unnecessary.  There is no constitutional requirement for the timing of this process and we urge Senator McConnell and members of the Judiciary Committee to wait until after the election has been certified.

By forcing this nomination through, in this manner, President Trump and Republican leadership are endangering what remains of our civic trust and putting our very democracy at risk instead of doing the right thing, the just thing, of meeting the real needs of our people in these difficult times.