One of the biggest open-ended questions of our rapidly approaching presidential election is whether or not Donald Trump will voluntarily submit to a peaceful transition of power should he be voted out of office in November. To date, both he and his allies have been distressingly circumspect when it comes to making a commitment to leave office willingly. At the same time, the president has made no secret of his plans to throw a contested election to the Supreme Court, where he believes a conservative majority will likely hand him a second term in office. And given that Trump seems to be banking on the extremely real possibility of a contested election being decided by the courts, his Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett's response when asked about peaceful transfers of presidential power is, shall we say, alarming at best.
The exchange came after New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker (D) pushed Barrett to affirm whether or not presidents should "make a commitment, unequivocally and resolutely, to the peaceful transfer of power" — the very thing Trump has pointedly refused to do.
Here is Barrett's answer in full:
Barrett: That seems to me to be pulling me in a little bit into this question of whether the president has said that he would not peacefully leave office. And so to the extent that this is a political controversy right now, as a judge I want to stay out of it, and I don't want to express a view on ...
Booker: So judge, I appreciate what you've said about respecting our founding fathers, about the originalism, it's remarkable that we're in a place right now that this is becoming a question and a topic. But I'm asking you, in light of our founding fathers, in light of our traditions, in light that everyone who serves in that has sworn an oath where they, quote, "swear to preserve, and protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." I'm just asking you: Should a president commit themselves, like our founding fathers I think had a clear intention, like the grace that George Washington showed, to the peaceful transfer of power? Is that something that presidents should be able to do?
Coney Barrett: Well, one of the beauties of America, from the beginning of the republic, is that we have had peaceful transfers of power. And that disappointed voters have accepted the new leaders that come into office. And that's not true in every country. And I think it is part of the genius of our Constitution and the good faith and good will of the American people that we haven't had the situations that have arisen in so many other countries where those issues have been present.
For those of you keeping track at home, all Barrett had to say was, "Yes, presidents should commit to peaceful transfers of power. Of course."
Instead, she said a lot of very nice things about how good it is that there have always been peaceful transitions of presidential power in the past, and golly gee, doesn't that make America just great? What she did not say, however, is whether or not presidents should commit to continuing the behavior she suggested was be "part of the genius of our Constitution." Indeed, she claimed it was primarily a "political" issue, not a legal one, which seems like a pretty big red flag when what we're essentially talking about is a coup (although to be fair, if things really do get that bad, the legality of refusing to leave office is kind of moot by that point).
Still, coupled with the president's transparent hope that the Supreme Court will back him in the event of a contested election, and the fact that Barrett herself was part of the legal team that worked to hand power to then-candidate George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election's deciding court case against Al Gore, her answer should be a huge warning sign for anyone who thinks Trump would simply accept the will of the voters and quietly shuffle out of the White House without making a fuss.