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Judge Amy, striking a blow for women’s choice

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AMY Coney Barrett’s nomination to the US Supreme Court last week was historic. It was the first time a mother of seven – six of them school-age – and a non-Ivy League-educated judge was sworn in. Let that sink in: A mother with school-age children, one with Down’s syndrome and two adopted from Haiti, without a degree from a top-ten law school, took the seat of only the second woman to have served on the Court, the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. How radical. How refreshing. How far we have come.

Barrett is the epitome of what I have always believed the fight for equal rights for women to be about: namely choice and opportunity – the right to strive to be a mother and/or a professional woman; for both roles, domestic and public, to be acknowledged and valued. What Barrett has proved is that neither femininity, fertility nor faith need hold you back in public life, they need not turn you into a victim, indeed, if anything, that these attributes add wisdom and experience to the pursuit of a career. In her nomination acceptance speech, she thanked her husband Jesse, on whose domestic support much of her career progress as a mother must have depended. She told how he asks her if there is any more that he can do to help her (which has to be a working mother’s dream!) It was a far cry from the time when Ginsburg had to justify taking a man’s place at Harvard law school. 

Sailing through the hearings without taking a single note, her lawyer husband sitting behind her as well as several of her children, both her professional calibre and her political acuity were on display. She spoke of how the death of George Floyd affected her Haitian-born daughter Vivian: how they held one another and wept. She showed sensitivity to the gay community, making sure to clarify that her use of the phrase ‘sexual preferences’ was not meant to insult in response to those who insinuated that it was. She took the grandstanding and partisan arrows from US Senators with an almost maternal patience and grace. Her intelligence and seriousness shone through. So flawless was her performance that the majority of the American people fell behind her confirmation, while it quickly became evident to the Democrats there was no way they could pursue the type of character assassination they’d attempted with Brett Kavanaugh. 

At 48, Barrett could have many decades to adjudicate cases and make landmark decisions which will affect the future of the nation, much like her predecessor. However, unlike Ginsburg, she will have to do that while juggling motherhood responsibilities – childcare emergencies, birthdays, school plays, sports days, parent-teacher conferences, university applications and graduations. What an example we now have – of a family-oriented socially conservative woman applying her discernment to the constitutionality of our laws! 

The Democrat-driven media controversy that Barrett may take away a woman’s constitutional right to choose to have an abortion is a manufactured one. There is no guarantee at all that will be the case. The original Roe v Wade landmark decision of the Supreme Court (in which the court ruled that the Constitution of the United States protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction) has been settled law for over 40 years, and was upheld under Planned Parenthood v Casey (1992). 

Barrett has never said she would rule in such a way to do this. It must be remembered that there are plenty of examples of how unpredictable ‘conservatives’ can be as jurists.

Watching this mother of seven being sworn in by Justice Clarence Thomas, an African-American who grew up in a Georgia sharecropper’s shack, made me realise that this could only happen in the United States of America. Where else could a Midwestern girl from an ordinary family and an African-American, descendant of slaves, rise to the US Supreme Court as a result of hard work, perseverance, discipline, intelligence and, above all, merit? What a testament to American values and the American dream. What examples and role models for our children.

Amy Coney Barrett may not be the feminist that Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s supporters hoped would take her seat, and it may offend them that a non-complaining social conservative mother has won this prize. If she has upset their narrow feminist narrative – for pushing the boundaries of what is seen as ‘normal’ from our nation’s leaders, of what successful career women are expected to be like – then great. Taking over the reins from an old-school feminist she brings new and genuinely feminine values to female success. Such a revolution could happen first in only one place, and that is the United States of America. 

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Sarah Elliott
Sarah Elliott is chair of Republicans Overseas UK and a broadcaster.

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