Guest Columnist

Iowa plays outsized role in Supreme Court confirmation hearing

Judge Barrett applies the law and the Constitution as written

Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump's nominee to the Supreme Court, right, meets with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R
Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump's nominee to the Supreme Court, right, meets with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, at the Capitol, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020 in Washington. (Caroline Brehman/Pool via AP)

It is rare for a state to have both of its U.S. senators seated on the Senate Judiciary Committee, especially at such a decisive moment in the life of our country. As one of only three states in this position today, Iowa will play an outsized role in the confirmation process for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, a former chairman of the committee, said Judge Barrett has “a good chance of getting my vote. … I usually don’t say that until everything is over, but Judge Barrett has quite a record to go on.”

Sen. Joni Ernst said the nominee “deserves a fair and honest confirmation process, and I am committed to evaluating Judge Barrett on the basis of her qualifications and character.”

After some senators have suggested that the nominee does not deserve a fair and honest confirmation process, regardless of her qualifications, Sen. Ernst’s commitment is reassuring.

All the more so because if our two senators assess Judge Barrett on her qualifications, there can be no doubt how they will vote, just as both voted to confirm her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in 2017.

Then as now, Judge Barrett makes clear that what guides her decisions as a judge is applying the law and the Constitution as written.

In her three years on the Seventh Circuit, as a professor at Notre Dame Law School, and as a clerk for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, she has consistently applied the fundamental standard that the role of a judge does not include deciding cases based on her own policy preferences.

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“I totally reject and I have rejected throughout my entire career the proposition that … the end justifies the means or that a judge should decide cases based on a desire to reach a certain outcome,” she said during her 2017 confirmation hearing.

Sens. Ernst and Grassley are likely to hear similar words as the Senate begins playing its role in this vital process.

Just as the judiciary plays its role in the separation of powers by protecting constitutional rights against violations by the political branches, the Senate performs its function by assessing judicial nominees and deciding whether to confirm them.

The goal should be to confirm Supreme Court justices who make judgments based on the law and the Constitution. If they don’t, it’s fair to ask what is guiding them. If it’s not the Constitution, it will be something else — their policy preferences, their devotion to a cause, or simply public opinion.

While those are considerations for lawmakers such as our U.S. senators, they are not what should guide a judge, whose job it is to decide cases, not make policy.

When senators put nominees on the spot to respond to specific policy questions, they are trying to force nominees to violate a foundational principle of the American system — that an independent judiciary is beholden not to political whim, but to the law.

Judge Barrett isn’t likely to go down that road, and thankfully, I’m confident our senators won’t either.

The confirmation of a Supreme Court justice is, of course, part of the political process. But that does not mean it has to be overly politicized. Sens. Grassley and Ernst, as members of the Judiciary Committee, should do everything in their power to ensure that it is not.

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Senators should instead focus their energies on the qualifications and integrity of the nominee, on her sterling reputation as a scholar and on her devotion to equal justice under law.

A spotlight will be shining on Iowa’s senators during this process. Confirming a nominee as eminently qualified as Judge Barrett without delay reflects well on our lawmakers and our state.

Drew Klein is state director of Americans for Prosperity-Iowa.

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