Amy Wilson’s plans to protest came together quickly.
Last Wednesday, the 37-year-old drove to the Supreme Court from Silver Spring, Md., to pay her respects to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in person. The justice, who died Sept. 18 at 87, was a fierce defender of women’s rights, and “what she stood for means a lot for myself and others,” Wilson says. A friend joined her at the courthouse to mourn; Wilson told her to let her know if she heard of any more events at the Supreme Court in the coming days.
Then on Saturday night — after President Trump announced that he had nominated federal appeals court Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative, to be Ginsburg’s replacement — Wilson heard from her friend via Facebook. There was going to be a protest at the Supreme Court on Sunday afternoon, she said. Did she want to come?
Wilson wanted to speak out and “make sure that we are doing what’s best for our democracy and our country,” she says. So on Sunday, she drove back down to the Supreme Court.
She and her friend were among the dozens of demonstrators at the courthouse Sunday protesting Trump’s nomination of Barrett. The event was organized by the liberal group Demand Justice, Planned Parenthood and other advocacy groups, and it featured several speakers, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who has been an outspoken advocate of women’s rights.
For many on the left, Trump’s appointment and the Senate’s likely confirmation feels hypocritical, given that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refused to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, eight months ahead of the 2016 election. Barrett, who is only 48, could serve for several decades, and her appointment would solidify a conservative majority on the court. Her writings have led both liberals and conservatives to believe she would be willing to overturn Roe v. Wade; liberals are also worried about what is at stake for the Affordable Care Act, LGBTQ rights and more.
With hearings on Barrett’s nomination set to begin Oct. 12, activists from both sides of the aisle are flocking to the Supreme Court to have their voices heard, and protests and counterprotests are probably going to ramp up. The Women’s March organization, for example, announced that it is planning a march to the courthouse on Oct. 17 and expects thousands to attend.
Wilson believes that the stakes are high in terms of what Barrett’s nomination means for the politicization of the court and potential decisions that could influence her own life and those of other women. And that’s why she showed up to the protest on Sunday. “As a country, we’re in a really critical place,” she says. “After the passing of RBG, there was a moment of kind of dread in knowing what that could potentially mean, and that was realized with the announcement of Trump’s nomination.”
A day before, on Saturday, the scene at the courthouse looked different. Thousands of Christians had gathered on the Mall for the Prayer March, and members of Students for Life of America, an antiabortion group that centers on college campuses, demonstrated at the Supreme Court building to celebrate Garrett’s nomination.
Hannah Wolfe, a 23-year-old student living in Elkton, Md., had been planning to go to the Prayer March with her church for weeks. When she got to the event on Saturday, she heard about the antiabortion events happening at the Supreme Court and knew she “had to be a part of them.”
“It felt really surreal,” she says of being at the courthouse on Saturday. “When they made the official announcement, everyone there for the pro-life movement was so excited. I felt like I was in the right place at the right time.”
For many at the Prayer March, including Wolfe, who describes herself as a “huge advocate for the pro-life movement,” Barrett’s appointment to the Supreme Court would represent a huge victory. “I think a lot of people assume that young, millennial women are all pro-choice, and I’m not,” Wolfe says. “I’m passionate about stepping forward and speaking truth.”
Wolfe says she was “pleasantly surprised” by the peacefulness of the scene at the Supreme Court on Saturday, although there were minor disputes between protesters and counterprotesters. On Sunday, the roles were reversed: There was a small group of counterprotesters while Amy Wilson and others voiced their opposition to Trump’s nomination.
At Sunday’s rally, Wilson was particularly touched by speakers from She Will Rise, a campaign aimed at putting a Black woman on the Supreme Court. “The Supreme Court has never looked like people who look like me, as a Black woman,” Wilson says. “I personally am fully in support of that.”
For the past week, Kimberly Tignor, a co-founder of She Will Rise, had been grieving Ginsburg — “someone that I’d always taken comfort in having, that watchful eye on the court,” she says. In particular, she kept thinking “about my daughters and what their future is going to look like, and their daughters and what their future is going to look like.”
Tignor brought her daughters, 5 and 8, to the rally on Sunday. It’s been difficult, she says, to fully explain to them what the significance of Barrett’s nomination is. “But I want to make sure that they understand that when this all went down, we did fight and we tried and we gave it our all,” she says.
Tignor says she was “impressed” by the size of the crowd on Sunday, particularly because the event came together within a day. Although she saw many other young girls, the crowd was mixed in terms of gender and ethnicity, she says. And the mood “was as upbeat as it can be at this moment.”
Part of why Wilson felt “empowered” by Sunday’s event is that it included actionable ways to try to create change, including urging people to call their senators. The whole event lasted a little over an hour, and then Wilson drove back to Maryland. But the protest’s organizers said they are planning to continue holding protests at the Supreme Court. Starting Tuesday, they said, they’ll be there every morning at 8:30.
“We have a really difficult road ahead,” Tignor says. “The numbers are not in our favor, but that doesn’t mean we don’t show up and fight.”