Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, one of two Republican women on the Senate Judiciary Committee, worked last week during confirmation hearings to portray Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett as a trailblazer and role model for women.
Ernst brought up comparisons between the conservative Barrett and the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who championed women’s rights both before and during her time on the bench.
“The Democrats seem to claim that you wouldn’t be an adequate replacement for Justice Ginsburg, because you do not march in lockstep with her judicial philosophy,” Ernst told Barrett on the third day of hearings. “The way I see it, you’re both trailblazers, and you’re both accomplished professors. You were both respected and revered, and had strong endorsements, both from the left and the right. And you’re both amazing working moms. You both served in private practice. And like you, she was a woman of strong religious faith. And you both have a very impressive track record on the judicial bench. So asking women to march in lockstep with one philosophy is exactly the wrong kind of message we should be sending to women and especially to young women.”
Ernst is herself a trailblazer, in the sense that until she was elected in 2014, no woman had ever represented Iowa in either house of Congress. And she didn’t shrink from including herself in the club of conservative women who don’t get credit from the political left.
“What I hear so often from the left, many of us on the right do … is that because we don’t hold the same views that those on the left do, we shouldn’t be serving in the roles that we are,” Ernst said.
Barrett, while offering some Successories-style advice to young women (Be confident! Have a goal!), didn’t swing at Ernst’s female trailblazer softball. Instead, she talked about how there’s plenty of room for all kinds of judicial philosophies on the Supreme Court.
Barrett doesn’t particularly need to pander to women. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared last week he had the votes to confirm her, even if two of the nine female GOP senators were potential “no” votes.
Ernst, however, needs help from Iowa women to get re-elected.
What a difference from six years ago, when Ernst campaigned and was elected largely on themes aimed squarely at men. Her viral “make ‘em squeal” ad campaign that played off her experience castrating pigs on the farm was just the start of building a Harley-riding, leather-wearing, pistol-packing persona. She also played up her status as a mother, but typically in the same breath as she touted her military service. Exit polls showed Ernst beat Democrat Bruce Braley by 18 points among male voters while women split between the two candidates.
Typically, when Ernst was asked about the potential to break a glass ceiling for Iowa, she would deflect and say she wasn’t running on her gender.
This year, however, Ernst is fighting for her political life in an extremely tight race against a female opponent. And Democrat Theresa Greenfield had a 20-point advantage with likely female voters over Ernst in the last Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll, taken in mid-September.
So she gushed to Barrett that her daughter’s racially and politically diverse set of friends “see you as someone they can aspire to be.”
It’s certainly a remarkable achievement for any jurist, male or female, to reach the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s an even greater feat for a woman, even if President Trump chose Barrett among all the other conservative judges on his list in part to maintain the current gender balance on the court.
Despite what Ernst is trying to claim, however, most people on the political left are not objecting to Barrett’s confirmation because she’s a woman with conservative views. They’re objecting because she adheres to a judicial philosophy that insists on interpreting the law and the Constitution exactly the way it was written, much of it by elite white men during a time when women were considered property and Black people were literally property.
They’re objecting because of the potential, regardless of what Barrett says about her impartiality, that her philosophy will lead to a court that would strike down the Affordable Care Act, roll back abortion rights, and undermine the accomplishments of Ginsburg and others that make it possible for women like Ernst and Barrett to be where they are.
On the flip side, conservative women aren’t celebrating Barrett’s femininity so much as they are cheering for the expected result of her confirmation: An end to Roe v Wade and government-run health care.
It’s a shame that women of all political stripes can’t appreciate the accomplishments of a woman like Barrett. But it’s hardly surprising, especially less than three weeks before one of the most polarizing presidential races in history.
Women in Iowa and across the United States won’t get to vote on whether Barrett gets on the Supreme Court. What they can vote on is which of the women before them, Ernst or Greenfield, will fight for legislation that makes this country a better place for everyone — and will do so with enough diligence, skill and specificity that it won’t matter who’s on the Supreme Court.