Here’s how conservative the supreme court could tip with Amy Coney Barrett

Mona Chalabi
·2-min read

The scales of justice at the US supreme court have tipped firmly towards a conservative ideology for decadesto come after the election of judge Amy Coney Barrett, according to a dataset that measures the values of US justices.

Democrats criticized the rush to confirm Barrett before the general election while Republicans claimed that the seat should not remain vacant in the coming weeks. But really, what both sides are concerned about is the balance of the judiciary.

Barrett, an avowed conservative, replaces the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court’s most liberal justice, as the ninth justice on the highest court in the country.

With Barrett on the supreme court, many fear that rulings on human rights issues such as access to abortion and LGBTQ+ rights will become more conservative. There is clear evidence to support those concerns.

By looking at justices’ past voting records, academics have been able to measure their views on a spectrum from “more liberal” to “more conservative”. To do this, the supreme court database was analyzed by Lee Epstein and Andrew Martin of Washington University in St Louis and Kevin Quinn of the University of Michigan. A score was then assigned to each of the justices.

For instance, we see that Clarence Thomas is the most conservative of the justices, with an average voting record of 3.6 on the Martin-Quinn ideology scale. Meanwhile, with -2.7, Sonia Sotomayor is the most liberal justice currently on the supreme court. Even before the death of Ginsburg (whose score was -1.7), the supreme court tipped slightly conservative, as the average score across all nine justices was 0.1. After Ginsburg’s death, the score across the remaining eight justices rose to 0.3, a clear tip towards conservatism.

We don’t yet know the score of Barrett since this is calculated using voting records made by each supreme court justice. However, there is clear evidence about her political views. Among seventh circuit judges, Barrett has a history of voting against abortion rights, voting rights and prisoners’ rights and being particularly in favor of gun rights. During her confirmation hearings last week. Barrett used the term “sexual preference” twice when discussing same-sex marriage, a term used to minimize the human rights of those in the LGBTQ+ community. Barrett later apologized.

For now, we can only make informed estimates about what Barrett’s ideology score might be. Assuming that she scores 2.0 (this is a restrained estimate, putting her nowhere near the extreme of Thomas), would still tip the supreme court considerably, with the average score across all justices reaching 0.9. Since justices serve for life, Barrett, just 48, is likely to affect the balance of the court for a generation.