When it comes to serving on the highest court in the land, nothing is guaranteed until it’s in writing.
GV Wire℠ spoke with Fresno attorney Mark King, an alum of the San Joaquin College of Law to gain his perspective.
King says history indicates that a Supreme Court justice’s personal life isn’t necessarily indicative of what their professional rulings will be.
Expectations Aren’t Guarantees
“She is expected to be a strong conservative voice on the court. Those expectations can sometimes be dashed by reality.”–Fresno attorney Mark King, an alum of the San Joaquin College of Law
“She is expected to be a strong conservative voice on the court,” says King. “Those expectations can sometimes be dashed by reality.”
When asked if Barrett’s selection could reshape the court opinions to lean more conservative, King offers an intriguing assessment.
“There’s no guarantee that’s going to happen,” says King. “She could be more balanced. She could be more liberal on some issues than other people might dare to imagine.”
King explains there have been examples of a Supreme Court nominee bucking their supposed ideology.
Still Young in Her Career
Barrett has been on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals for three years. King says there are two reasons presidents typically want to nominate someone who hasn’t been a judge for a very long time.
“They want someone young who will be on the court for a long time,” says King. “The less track record they have, the less controversy there will be over rulings they’ve made before.”
Critical of Chief Roberts
“She has been critical of Chief Justice John Roberts’ compromise that preserved Obamacare,” said King.
According to the South Bend Tribune, Barrett wrote in 2017 that Roberts pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning in order to save it.
“There have been devout Catholics, for instance Justice (Anthony) Kennedy, who have ruled in ways that go against the teachings of the Catholic church,” explains King as he says her faith won’t necessarily dictate what she will or won’t do.
During her 2017 confirmation hearing for the federal appeals court, Barrett said she would separate her faith from her work as a judge.
“If you’re asking whether I take my faith seriously and I’m a faithful Catholic, I am,” Barrett responded during that hearing, “although I would stress that my personal church affiliation or my religious belief would not bear in the discharge of my duties as a judge.”
Roe V. Wade
“She has written in non-judicial writings that she thinks abortion is always immoral,” says King. He says some justices have ruled in favor of abortion rights, including Justice Kennedy, despite their personal feeling about the issue.
“We really do not know how her personal views would affect how she would rule on abortion rights as a supreme court justice,” adds King.
Did Not Side With Police
“One ruling last year some criminal defense attorneys encouragement was that she rejected a qualified immunity claim by a police officer,” says King. “That goes against what you would expect the conservative grain to be.”
Coney Barrett ruled on the qualified immunity case during her 7th Circuit Court tenure. Qualified immunity is a judicially created doctrine that shields government officials from being held personally liable for constitutional violations
In 2014, William Rainsberger was charged with the murder of his 88-year-old mother after she was found lying face down in her apartment with head injuries. Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department detective Charles Benner arrived at the crime scene shortly after the 911 call was placed.
Benner, according to court documents, attempted to charge Rainsberger before the results of that DNA test came back, but local prosecutors declined, citing a lack of evidence. Benner again went back to the prosecutor a few months later and omitted the DNA test that exonerated Rainsberger but instead used data from a cell tower to place Rainsberger at the scene.
Coney Barrett found that not only had Benner violated the Fourth Amendment, he’d outright lied in an attempt to charge Rainsberger. She allowed Rainsberger’s qualified immunity civil lawsuit against Benner to proceed, eventually ruling in favor of Rainsberger.
She Could Be a Surprise
“There have been some judges who have been surprises,” according to King. “President Dwight Eisenhower appointed Earl Warren to be Chief Justice. He thought Warren was going to be a stalwart conservative. Warren turned out to be a flaming liberal.”
King says another example is when President George H.W. Bush appointed David Souter and expected him to be a reliable conservative vote. “He turned out to be anything but that,” said King.
One more example King points to is Justice Neil Gorsuch. President Donald Trump’s first nominee to the Supreme Court, delivered an opinion in June to change how more than 7 million LGBTQ individuals will live and work in the United States.
CNN reported it was a watershed moment from Gorsuch that means gay, lesbian and transgender workers are protected by federal civil rights law. “It is a stunning defeat for judicial conservatives who worked to ensure Gorsuch’s nomination and Republicans, including Donald Trump, who stymied President Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, liberal Merrick Garland in 2016,” reported CNN.
Professor and Scholar
Kings says she gets, “very high marks for being a professor and a scholar.” He says her colleagues at the University of Notre Dame Law School respect her for her mind, her reasoning abilities, and no one can claim she’s not qualified to be a Supreme Court justice.