Updated Oct. 26 at 8:15 p.m.: The Senate has confirmed Amy Coney Barrett as the 115th justice to the Supreme Court on Monday night, elevating just the fifth woman to the court in its 231-year history and one who further cements its conservative shift.
When news broke that Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, Laura Jean Baker’s 12-year-old daughter, Fern, immediately went in search of her mother on her bike. When Baker, who was on a walk, saw Fern pedaling toward her in bare feet, she knew something was wrong.
For Laura, talking politics with Fern and her other daughter, Irie, 16, is natural. “Growing up, I knew I was a feminist, like my mom, but I didn’t really know what that meant in practice,” Baker says. Of her daughters: “They’re much more informed.”
So it makes sense that in the weeks since Ginsburg’s death, the three have discussed Ginsburg’s presumptive replacement on the Supreme Court: Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who the Senate confirmed Monday night.
Barrett has been praised by conservatives for her legal background, as well as how she applies originalism — or the idea that the Constitution should be interpreted as it was originally intended. But on the left, Barrett has sparked concern her confirmation could be a threat to Roe v. Wade, the Affordable Care Act and LGBTQ rights.
The next ACA case will be heard by the high court on Nov. 10, with Barrett potentially sitting on the case.
That’s why Baker, a Wisconsin-based English professor, says she’s been having open conversations with her daughters about how a conservative-leaning court may rule on health care. The mom recently sent Irie, who has a boyfriend, to Planned Parenthood for birth control. If Roe v. Wade or the ACA hang in the balance, Baker says she’s told Irie that “places like Planned Parenthood are going to be at risk.”
With both her daughters, Baker has also discussed abortion — she got one herself in 2016 and detailed her experience in a memoir on motherhood she published in 2018.
“We talked a lot about the fact that abortions are much more difficult [to obtain] for the working poor,” she says, adding that she’s told her daughters that, as middle-class White women, they’d probably have an easier time accessing abortions. “But what we need to be more worried about are people who don’t have that kind of safety net,” Baker says.
And their conversations on Barrett have touched upon something else: the emphasis on Barrett as both a mother and a successful judge. To them, that doesn’t change how they feel about Barrett.
“They see her as the opposite of what they’d aspire to be,” Baker says.
But that’s not how Amber Downer, a Maryland mother to two daughters, sees it. Downer is a program manager for the Network of Enlightened Women, an organization that convenes chapters on college campuses for conservative women. In recent weeks, she’s been discussing Barrett with her daughters, ages 9 and 5. Her older daughter, Olivia, is passionate about history and current events, Downer says, so she was excited to watch both Barrett’s nomination and confirmation hearings. Olivia was particularly thrilled when Barrett’s family joined her at the nomination, especially since she has a working mom, too.
For the most part, Downer says, her conversations with Olivia have revolved around the Constitution and Barrett’s background.
“We’ve discussed a lot about her qualifications. I believe she is going to be a great example for my daughters,” Downer says. “I’m teaching my daughters they can live their faith and still prioritize their family and career.”
Including Olivia in political discourse, Downer says, allows her to engage in the world around her as she begins to form her own opinions.
“There's no limit to what she can do, and I think there's been many women before her that are just trailblazers,” Downer says. “And you can add Judge Barrett to that list.”
Mother-daughter pair Gloria Martinez, 60, and Lauren Castillo, 29, in Denver have also celebrated Barrett’s accomplishments in their conversations together, calling her a strong model for feminism.
“A lot of conservative feminists, and women who are conservative and have aspirations, are looked down upon,” Martinez says. That’s not how Martinez says she’s raised Castillo, instead instilling in her that feminism can look different to different people and that women should support one another regardless of their paths in life. That’s what Barrett embodies to them.
It’s those teachings Castillo, a mother herself, says she will pass down to her daughters.
“As a younger working mom — and I work full time — I want to tell my daughters, yes, you can have a career, you can find something really important, you can have a family,” she says.
But between pair JoJo Di Scipio, a 20-year-old William & Mary student, and her mom, Peggy, conversations on Barrett have been more panicked as they worry about what Barrett on the high court could mean for the future of young women.
“Our conversations have mostly come from places of fear,” JoJo says.
“I have children who have benefited from the things RBG has pushed for, including rights for women,” Peggy says. A lot of their concern boils down to accessing health care. JoJo says she recently began worrying over dinner about what might happen if the Affordable Care Act was struck down and she couldn’t remain on her parents’ health insurance.
“I’m freaking out. I don’t have a job,” JoJo says. Peggy says she’s been reminded of the year after she graduated college without a job that had health coverage. She’s tried to reassure her daughter that she’ll be there for her no matter what.
The two have also spoken about what Barrett’s potential impact may be on LGBTQ rights. Activists and Democrats were alarmed when Barrett evaded questions on Obergefell v. Hodges, the ruling on marriage equality, The Washington Post reported.
“The Catholicism that I grew up with is much different than what I see happening now,” Peggy says, when it comes to acceptance of LGBTQ people. She says she was raised to believe Jesus loves and accepts all people.
Despite JoJo’s worries for her future, the two have a plan: They’ll continue to engage in politics together, getting in line early to vote in Virginia on Election Day. JoJo says she’s thankful to have her mom as a sounding board.
“I think it’s probably one of the best gifts she’s given me, I know that.”
Editor’s note: A revised version of this article contains an updated quote from Amber Downer.