Data Opinion

Amy Coney Barrett is the most unpopular Supreme Court nominee in modern history

By Madison Ulczak

To me and to many Americans, Donald Trump’s late-term appointment to the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, is the antithesis of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

A cultural icon, champion of women’s rights and of equality for LGBTQ Americans, there is no Supreme Court justice that has achieved the level of cultural status that RBG did. It could be that the late supreme court justice was an alum of my alma mater, or that I could count on her to fight for me and my rights as a woman. Regardless of the reason, I felt a connection (like I’m sure so many others did) to RBG. I was confident and comforted in having someone who would have my back and be in my corner sitting in the highest court in the land. Despite her age and knowing she had battled stints with cancer, her passing rocked me.

And now, President Trump’s nomination to fill the vacant seat with Judge Amy Coney Barrett threatens to dismantle much of the progress that RBG spent her life advancing.

In new polling, we set out to understand how voters are reacting to Barrett’s nomination. We find that Barrett is the most unpopular Supreme Court nominee since Robert Bork. Barrett’s unpopularity is even stronger than opposition to Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination in 2018.

To give a bit of history, Robert Bork was nominated to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan in 1987 but ultimately rejected by the Senate due, in part, to his open opposition to civil rights and anti-choice views.

At the time of Bork’s nomination, Senator Ted Kennedy took to the Senate floor with a strong condemnation of him, declaring:

“Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.”

Sound familiar?

It should, as racism in America and a woman’s right to make decisions about her body still stand as central issues in our country’s political debates. It seems as 2020 has propelled us back to 1987 as both these topics, and more, have also risen during Barrett’s senate hearing, as the Judge has been described as “unashamedly Pro-Life” and openly against gay marriage.

Given her stance on these issues, we wanted to better understand perceptions of Barrett among voters whose personal lives may be directly impacted by her appointment to the Supreme Court. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Barrett’s favorability ratings plummet even further when you look at women (-12) and LGBTQ Americans (-14). Individuals who likely realize that Barrett’s position on reproductive rights and marriage equality stand in direct opposition of the views – and life work of the Champion they once had in their corner.

But despite the fact that a plurality of Americans oppose Barrett, Republicans are relentlessly forcing her nomination to go through the Senate before the election. With the election just over two weeks away, if confirmed, Barrett’s appointment would be, by far, the closest a Supreme Court appointment has ever happened to an election. This also comes at a time when just four years ago, in March of 2016, Republicans refused to vote on President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland. The Republican led Senate argued that the American people should have a say, and as it was Obama’s last term in office, the next president should make the nomination.

The argument to not fill a vacancy during an election year that the Republicans made four years ago seems to have disappeared, though. Regardless that 17 million Americans have already voted, and many for new leadership, the sentiment that the “American people should have a say” seems entirely lost. Forcing Barrett’s unpopular nomination, at a time of intense political divisiveness just weeks ahead of the election Republicans threaten to delegitimize the sanctity of the Supreme Court. An action that will result in Democrats having to take steps – should they win the Presidency and control in the Senate – to restore a non-partisan system.