Experts discuss feminism and the implications of Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment to the US Supreme Court

On October 27, Amy Coney Barrett was sworn in as the newest justice on the United States Supreme Court, joining a conservative majority on the Court and filling a seat vacated by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed away in September. To discuss the implications of Barrett’s appointment and to compare Barrett and Ginsburg’s careers, the Birnbaum Women’s Leadership Network (BWLN) and employment equity advocacy group A Better Balance convened leading experts on employment, constitutional, and gender and sexuality law for a broad-ranging discussion.

The November 16 panel featured Dina Bakst, co-founder and co-president of A Better Balance; Roberta Kaplan, founding partner of Kaplan Hecker & Fink and co-founder of Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund; Anisha Singh, director of judiciary and democracy affairs at Planned Parenthood Action Fund; and Lena Zwarensteyn, Fair Courts Campaign director at the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights. The discussion was moderated by Melissa Murray, BLWN faculty director and Frederick I. and Grace Stokes Professor of Law.

Watch video of their discussion:

The panelists discussed decisions that Barrett issued as a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit as well as how her identity as a woman and mother came to bear on public perception, the press coverage of her nomination and appointment, and the Senate Judiciary Committee’s line of questioning during her confirmation hearing.

Selected remarks from the discussion:

Lena Zwarensteyn: “Back in 2018 when we were faced with Justice Kavanaugh’s nomination…it was, you know, speculated, ‘Well, might Amy Coney Barrett be the nomination?’ and…everyone’s saying ‘No, we’re holding back on the Barrett nomination in case something happens to Justice Ginsburg.’ And that to me was pretty rotten all together…I think the idea that we have this one slot for a woman…to me that was pretty telling in terms of what the agenda is, and it was sort of representation for the sake of representation, not because of what that reflects for women and women’s rights.” (video 14:53)

Roberta Kaplan: “[What] Justice Ginsburg and Justice Barrett have in common…they’re both very, very, very smart and I’m sure Justice Barrett would agree with feminism to the extent that she believes she’s as smart if not smarter than any other man…. But the real issue is really to what extent does that equal the equality of women? How could that reverberate through the law? I know on that issue, it’s hard to imagine two people who thought about it more differently than Justice Ginsburg and Justice Barrett.” (video 16:18)

Anisha Singh: “You know the faith of the people in the court system is constantly at risk. And when we have Senate Republicans who are asking questions [of the nominee] that are not relevant to the pandemic and the care that people need, the relief that people need, and especially ignoring the systematic and very dire need, especially for Black and brown communities…it really just reflects the exact messaging that we’ve heard—frustration from the people time and time again, which is that the courts don’t reflect who they are…and we hear this especially from Black and brown communities” (video 34:26)

Melissa Murray: “One of the things that I found most disappointing about the confirmation was that as they were making so much of her motherhood and her family, I thought it was a missed opportunity for the American public to engage in, ‘What does it really take for women to be successful and have families?’” (video 36:56) 

Dina Bakst: “Pregnant workers need clear rights to accommodation…The CDC recently came out with guidance showing that pregnant workers—especially those with underlying conditions, but disproportionately women of color—are at higher risk of complications, so this need is really not just a nice thing to do but critically important, not just for their economic security but for [their] health and [the] health of families.” (video 54:54)

Posted December 8, 2020