WASHINGTON — The Senate on Monday voted 52-48 to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, and President Trump’s nominee was sworn in that evening at the White House.
The outcome was a foregone conclusion as the GOP had enough votes even with all Democrats and one Republican opposed to confirmation.
On Oct. 25, Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, urged her colleagues to reject the nomination in a speech on the Senate floor.
Hirono shared the story of how the late Rep. Patsy Takemoto Mink (D-Hawaii) helped stop the nomination of Judge G. Harrold Carswell to the Supreme Court by testifying against him before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1970. During her testimony, Mink cited the judge’s refusal to take up a case related to a woman denied a factory job because of her preschool-aged children as evidence he “demonstrated a total lack of understanding of the concept of equality.”
After rejecting Carswell’s nomination, the Senate confirmed Justice Harry Blackmun, who wrote the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade three years later.
From Hirono’s remarks:
“In 1970 – the same year that Hawaii became the first state in the country to decriminalize abortion – Patsy did something no one had done before. She made women’s rights a key issue in a Supreme Court nomination when she testified against the nomination of Judge G. Harrold Carswell.
“In her testimony, Patsy brought up Judge Carswell’s decision in the case of Ida Phillips – a woman denied a factory job because she had preschool-aged children. Of course, no such rule applied to fathers.
“Judge Carswell, along with 10 of his colleagues on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, had refused to hear Ms. Phillips’ case.
“Patsy told the Senate Judiciary Committee: ‘Judge Carswell demonstrated a total lack of understanding of the concept of equality…. His vote represented a vote against the right of women to be treated equally and fairly under the law.’
“When a Republican senator tried to defend Judge Carswell by pointing out that 10 other judges had also voted to refuse to hear the case, Patsy responded, ‘But the other nine are not up for appointment to the Supreme Court.’
“Patsy understood the critical role the Supreme Court plays in the lives of every American. She pointed out to the Committee that ‘the Supreme Court is the final guardian of our human rights. We must rely totally upon its membership to sustain the basic values of our society.’
“Patsy’s testimony marked a turning point in Judge Carswell’s nomination, which the Senate ultimately rejected. Her courageous action paved the way for President Richard Nixon to appoint Justice Harry Blackmun to the court.
“Three years later, Justice Blackmun wrote the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade – recognizing a woman’s constitutional right to control her own body. Justice Blackmun, unlike Judge Carswell, understood the right of women to be treated equally. Upon his retirement, he observed Roe was ‘a step that had to be taken … toward the full emancipation of women’
“This story about Patsy is not very well known, but it underscores how one person can make a difference and how one vote on the Supreme Court can make a difference.
“During his years on the court, Justice Blackmun became a reliable vote for racial and gender equality, and his decisions reflected an understanding of how the court’s decisions impact the lives of millions of Americans.
“If Judge Carswell had been confirmed to the Supreme Court instead of Justice Blackmun, Roe v. Wade would not exist as we know it. Nor would a host of civil rights protections for students and racial minorities.
“Our nation finds itself at a similar judicial crossroads today as we debate whether Judge Amy Coney Barrett should replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.
“The choice we face as senators is clear. It’s the same choice Patsy Mink presented to the Senate 50 years ago.
“We can choose to protect equality for women, health care for millions, and other ‘basic values of our society.’
“Or, we can choose a justice selected to do precisely the opposite: strike down the Affordable Care Act, overturn Roe v. Wade, and continue to decide cases like her conservative mentor, Justice Antonin Scalia.”
The first woman of color elected to the House, Mink served from 1965 to 1977 and again from 1990 until her death in 2002 at the age of 74.