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‘This is more than one issue’: Students gather to protest Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation

| Friday, October 30, 2020

A crowd of hundreds of students carrying handmade signs and LGBTQ+ pride flags gathered on Library Lawn Thursday evening to protest the Monday confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett. With security present, demonstrators gathered by the Acousticafe stage to make their voice heard by protesting Barrett’s confirmation and her some of her views involving sexual freedom, reproductive rights and the support of marginalized communities.

A group supporting Barrett’s confirmation marched by and chanted, interrupting the anti-Barrett protest. According to security and organizers of the demonstration against Barrett, the counter protesters in support of Barrett never received the permission needed to organize a demonstration in the first place. 

Barrett is a Notre Dame law professor and circuit judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. University President Fr. John Jenkins congratulated Barrett in a statement Monday, writing, “On behalf of the University of Notre Dame, I congratulate Amy Coney Barrett on her confirmation today by the United States Senate as a justice of the United States Supreme Court. Recognized by experts from across the spectrum of judicial philosophies as a superb legal scholar and judge, she is an esteemed colleague and a teacher revered by her students.”

This statement provoked a multitude of responses from the student body, some of whom argued Jenkins did not speak for them, and prompted the creation of the demonstration Monday evening. 

Co-organizers Matt Heilman and Emma Dudrick, a sophomore and a junior, were on a Zoom call when they heard the news — Barrett had been confirmed in one of the fastest confirmation processes in history, just eight days before the presidential election.

“We spontaneously said, ‘You know what, at Notre Dame people usually say they want to demonstrate, but they usually don’t. So we’re just going to put it together ourselves,’” Heilman said. 

Heilman and Dudrick looked into applying to officially plan a demonstration, and organized a meeting with Campus Safety and University Operations. From there, Heilman said the process was easy — he got approval from Campus Safety, created a GroupMe group chat filled with like-minded people and the event was scheduled. 

“I reached out to a bunch of different people, and we formed an Instagram account. It’s totally a grassroots movement,” Heilman said. “I definitely am one of the people who took the step to organize it, but it’s become so much more than that. We have so many people who are involved in doing things both small and large.” 

Prior to the start of the event, volunteers with clipboards walked around with a QR code to join a group of peers interested in activism, and other students passed out condoms, flyers and signs.

As more participants showed up — most wearing pink or white as a message of support — Heilman started the demonstration before four other student speakers. 

“Many have asked the question, ‘Why are we here?’” Heilman said. “The confirmation vote for Justice Amy Coney Barrett went through this past Monday, and according to some, ‘There is nothing we can do about it at this point.’ Does that mean we should still stay silent? Silent about what we consider to be an illegitimate approval process, a political shame pushed through the senate when there are six million more people in poverty for who another stimulus check would mean whether or not they could pay for their utilities? And yet that did not go through.”

Heilman went on to question Barrett’s record of not supporting marginalized communities and groups. He then turned to Jenkins’ support for Barrett’s nomination, and his statement on behalf of the student body, and reminded participants to social distance and follow COVID-19 guidelines. 

“Fr. Jenkins’ outright endorsement of Justice Barrett and her legal history ignores our fears, our perspectives and our rights,” he said.

Anjali Pellegrin, a Notre Dame freshman, then went on the Acousticafe stage to start her speech touching on Catholic social teaching. 

Pellegrin began her speech warning protesters that the counter-protest in support of Barrett was moving from their designated spot by the law school to walk by their protest. She reminded protesters that they should not engage with the other side, and remain peaceful. 

“We will not be the people on the wrong side of this protest, we will not instigate and we will not let this story be turned against us,” Pellegrin yelled into her megaphone. 

Maria Luisa Paul | The Observer
Students gathered on Library Lawn to speak out against the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett. A group gathered in support of Barrett marched toward the protest in their own demonstration.

However, as Pellegrin began her speech about Barrett’s violation of Catholic social teachings, the pro-Barrett rally began to walk by. 

Through shouts of, “ACB, U.S.A.,” Pellegrin attempted to continue before eventually pausing to wait out the chants, before deciding to start chants of her own. 

Pellegrin began a chant of “ACB, not for me!” and “This is what democracy looks like!” while the pro-Barrett demonstration stood directly behind the stage in front of the reflecting pool.

Security, later confirming the pro-ACB protesters did not have permission to hold their demonstration, directed the counter-protest away from library lawn. Standing further back, the organizers played the “Star Spangled Banner,” and eventually scattered.

Once Pellegrin was able to continue, she dissected Barrett’s views on “family views,” and provided examples of instances in which Barrett decided in court cases that went against marginalized families.

“Where was openness to life when Amy Coney Barrett sided with police officers 11 out of 12 cases of excessive force? She granted qualified immunity in all but one case that she sided in,” she said. “Because we were begging for openness to life when we were in the streets, when I was protesting in New Orleans, when we were pleading for justice for their murdered brothers and sisters … So where was Amy Coney Barrett when she was sitting on that bench?

“This is more than one issue, this is everything that matters.” 

Next, senior Aiden Summers spoke about the impact of Barrett’s confirmation on the LGBTQ community. Summers said he was immediately worried upon hearing of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death.

“I was worried that I could, God forbid, get in some sort of accident somewhere, and when I’m taken to the ER that the doctor could turn me away and let me die because I am trans,” he said. “That’s ridiculous, and an administration that says that’s okay, and that they’re pro-life … That’s not us. Fr. Jenkins can not speak for us. I knew that he was not on our side already, but this level of disregard for people’s lives … It’s saying people like us don’t belong at Notre Dame.”

Senior Odalis Gonzalez took the stage next. She primarily discussed Barrett’s record on immigration, and the immigrant community’s rights in America.

“ACB calls herself Catholic, but her actions do not support that,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez went on to discuss how, in her eyes, Barrett does not follow the Catholic social teachings.

Finally, Dudrick took the stage to close out the demonstration. She criticized Republicans leaders for pushing a justice confirmation through right before an election.

“The Republican party is attempting to push a hyper-conservative justice through the nomination process because they know that after Nov. 3 they’ll lose their ability to do so,” Dudrick said. “This isn’t right and it isn’t fair and it isn’t representative of the American people … we won’t stand for the breakdown of democracy that’s happening right in front of our eyes. It’s certainly not okay that our University not only allows it to happen, but actively encourages it.”

Ely Rodriguez, a sophomore, said she identifies with many of the communities she feels Barrett has beliefs against. 

“As a Catholic daughter of immigrant parents, and a queer person, it’s crazy that someone who is of the Notre Dame community and is Catholic can be so hurtful to my future,” she said. “It breaks my heart, but it helps me to realize there are other people on campus who feel this way.”

Jada Woodard, a sophomore, said she felt like it was important to speak her mind and attend the protest.

“Especially in this political climate and with the election days away, we’ve had enough waiting and there are people counting on us to speak up for them and I think it’s a really important thing to talk about … the fact that we’re here at Notre Dame and she keeps mentioning us and playing our fight song at the White House,” she said. “It’s really our call to action to say we don’t stand for the same things she stands for in the name of Catholicism and it’s important to spread love and community in this time.”

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About Mariah Rush

Mariah is a senior majoring in American Studies and minoring in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She is from the great city of South Bend, and was the Managing Editor of The Observer for the 2020-2021 school year. You can find her always on Twitter at @mariahfrush.

Contact Mariah