Amy Coney Barrett on Law Enforcement and Prisons

| Reproaction

By: Tenaja Henson

Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court this close to an election is an unprecedented and callous power grab. With her limited legal experience, it is unclear exactly what her views are on law enforcement, prisons, and the rights of felons and incarcerated people. Though one thing is for certain, this nomination is far more ominous than what’s on the surface.

Here’s what you need to know about Trump’s new Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett and her stance on law enforcement and prisons.

Qualified Immunity: Qualified immunity is often used as a defense to shield police officers from personal liability for misconduct. Barrett has acknowledged in several cases that qualified immunity will not fly in her court. There is not a clear answer on how Barrett would respond to a case of police brutality especially if the force used was racially motivated. [1]

The Fourth Amendment: The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution establishes our right to live free of unreasonable searches and seizures. [2] Barrett has said that she does not condone search and seizure without probable cause. However, there is no clear signal that she would apply the Fourth Amendment in a racially just manner that would allow Black people to actually experience it in this country. [3] After all, it is important to remember that most, if not all, of the laws that made in this country and held up in these courts were written by white people for the benefit of white people. To date, Barrett has not made a statement regarding the murder of Black people by police, including the murder of Breonna Taylor.

The Death Penalty: Capital punishment is currently legal in 28 US states. [4] Many people are skeptical that Barrett will remain impartial and secular in her legal rulings, given her conservative religious beliefs. Barrett has formally stated that “… she cannot, and more importantly, should not enforce secular laws that go against her religious views.” [5]

Health and Safety of Incarcerated People: The COVID-19 pandemic has raised many questions about the health and safety of incarcerated people. It was predicted back in May that the Supreme Court and federal district courts across the nation were going to see an uptick in cases related to the rights of incarcerated people being protected from contracting the virus [7]. Despite testimony from multiple individuals incarcerated at the Orange County Jail in Southern California, and data showing the breakouts were happening in prisons, there seemed to be little effort to protect inmates. In fact, when the Supreme Court was presented with the opportunity to rule against the actions of the prison officials the vote came to 5-4 in favor of the prison officials retaining control over safety precautions [8].

This is a reproductive justice issue. What we have seen thus far from Barrett on the rights of incarcerated individuals is that she rarely has their best interests at heart. Even when she is presented with an abundance of evidence in the violation of 8th amendment, which gives protection to people from cruel and unusual punishment, Barrett discounted evidence presented by incarcerated individuals. [9]

Rights of Formerly Incarcerated People: In a similar vein, Barrett’s stance on the rights of formerly incarcerated people has shown to be disconcerting. Previously Barrett has argued for formerly incarcerated people to retain the right to own guns, after they have finished their sentence, but not the right to vote. This is rooted in the belief that voting is a only a right for virtuous citizens, and those who have committed a felony are no longer considered virtuous [9, 10].

The Supreme Court is supposed to serve as a place of justice and impartiality, but as we have seen, lived experiences and personal values are constantly affecting the decisions of judges, law enforcers, law makers, and national leaders. The Supreme Court has already begun to lean away from the needs of supporting communities and individuals who are being systemically subjugated to injustice. It is important that we not only demand respect for due process, but also a nominee that is clearly experienced and prepared to navigate the ever changing legal and political landscape that the Supreme Court is likely to face in the near future.

  1. https://reason.com/2020/09/23/amy-coney-barrett-demolishes-the-qualified-immunity-claim-of-a-detective-who-framed-a-man-for-murder/
  2. https://www.aclu.org/issues/criminal-law-reform/reforming-police/search-and-seizure
  3. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/cases-hint-amy-coney-barretts-views-policing/story?id=73252459
  4. https://www.cnn.com/2013/07/19/us/death-penalty-fast-facts/index.html
  5. https://www.thenation.com/article/politics/amy-coney-barrett-extremist/
  6. https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/21/politics/covid-19-supreme-court-prisoners-rights/index.html
  7. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/05/us/coronavirus-supreme-court-california-jail.html
  8. https://eji.org/news/supreme-court-sides-with-jail-over-covid-19-safety-measures/
  9. https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/amy-coney-barretts-judicial-record-criminal-justice-cases
  10. https://newrepublic.com/article/159512/amy-coney-barrett-guns-voting-rights
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