This week, the Senate is holding hearings on the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. By now, you probably already know that Barrett’s nomination puts our reproductive rights, health care, and safety at schools and work at risk. But if she is confirmed, Barrett’s decisions on the Supreme Court could have enormous economic costs for women too.
For example: as you’ve probably heard by now, the Supreme Court is hearing a challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) this Term. If the Court were to invalidate this foundational law, women would be deeply affected. Women could once again be denied insurance coverage (or face higher premiums) because of pre-existing conditions like having had a cesarean delivery, a prior pregnancy, or receiving medical treatment for domestic or sexual violence—or testing positive for COVID-19. Women could once again face “gender rating,” when women are charged more than men by insurance companies. And women could lose no-cost coverage for preventive services, such as birth control. If the Court strikes down the ACA, every extra dollar that women would have to spend on their health care is a dollar that they wouldn’t have to pay rent, grocery bills, or for other necessities, to save for emergencies, or to invest in the future.
Similarly, the Supreme Court regularly hears cases that involve protections against employment discrimination on the basis of race and/or sex, including based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Every decision that limits antidiscrimination protections—or women’s ability to bring cases to vindicate their legal rights in court—reduces women’s paychecks, lifetime earnings, and overall financial security. One notable example: the 2007 decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire. In that decision, a majority of the Supreme Court ruled that Lilly Ledbetter could not challenge her employer’s decisions to pay her less than her male counterparts over a period of nearly 20 years. The Court ruled that Lilly had waited too long to bring her case, even though she did not know she was being paid less than men at her workplace and the decision to pay her less affected every paycheck she received. This ongoing pay discrimination meant that Lilly had to provide for her family on smaller paychecks while she worked. But in addition, as she pointed out, “Those pay decisions made decades ago directly reduced my Social Security contribution and how much I was able to put into my retirement accounts”—and when the Court stopped her from bringing her claim, it undermined a secure and dignified retirement after a lifetime of hard work.
And more broadly, the Court every year hears cases that affect programs and services that women and their families rely on. For example, in 2019, the Court blocked the administration’s effort to add a harmful and discriminatory question about citizenship status to the decennial Census—which is used to allocate funding for more than 300 federal programs and services that help women and families make ends meet. Last year, the Court found that the administration’s attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—under which over 800,000 young people have been able to access work permits, driver’s licenses, higher education and (in some states) professional licenses—violated the law. The Court has also ruled on the implementation of the administration’s draconian “public charge” rule—which would force immigrants to choose between receiving public benefits that help provide basic health care, nutrition assistance, and shelter—and potentially being separated from their families. (Fun fact: Judge Barrett thought this rule was totally fine to implement.)
Women of color, and women more generally, face a greater risk of economic insecurity throughout their lives, because of pay inequity, disproportionate responsibility for caregiving, and systemic race and gender discrimination. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing disparities and plunged many women into deep economic distress. It’s clear that the Senate should be focused on providing relief to the millions of Americans struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. But it’s also clear that the Supreme Court’s decisions make a difference for women’s paychecks, family budgets, and overall economic security—which is why this nomination is too important to rush through the Senate. No confirmation should take place before inauguration.