Dogma or Law?
With a confirmation vote on the president’s Supreme Court nomination all but secured for Trump and Senate Republicans next month, attention must shift from whether or not a nomination should be made, to the examination and confirmation of said nominee.
On Friday, it was reported in the New York Times that President Trump had selected Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his nomination for the Supreme Court and a day after, the president announced her nomination and confirmed the rumors. Immediately, the political firestorm began to rage.
Those on the right, such as Sean Hannity, denounced questions of Barrett’s intentions and applauded the nomination as warranted while, as you may have guessed, those on the left had an equal and opposite reaction.
The question of her experience and merit arose just as soon as this news was leaked on Friday, with right-wing analysts defending her background and seasoning.
Now let me be clear: while I resoundingly oppose the confirmation of Barrett, any reservations based on questions of her experience are faulty. If we were to examine Barrett solely on her past work history and experience, there would be no question of her merit.
After graduating from Rhodes College in 1994, she attended Notre Dame’s Law School on a full ride. She received near perfect grades as she rose to the top of her graduating class, all the while carrying out her duties as the executive editor for the Notre Dame Law Review.
Barrett had then clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia for a short time before practicing law. She returned to Notre Dame Law School and taught there until 2017, when Trump appointed her as a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
Judge Amy Coney Barrett is a staunch pro-life supporter but has publicly said that she sees Roe v. Wade as a landmark case that is the law, not to be overturned anytime soon. However, actions speak louder than words, as CBS News reported that “during her three years on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, she has already ruled on two abortion-related cases, both times favoring restrictions on access to abortion.” That is certainly concerning, as her appointment would radically shift the court to the right, and possibly bring into question the continued survival of Roe v. Wade.
As you can see from her lengthy resume, Judge Amy Coney Barrett is not lacking in experience, nor knowledge of the law. Her academic and professional qualifications are more than sufficient. However, when evaluating a nominee, there is a wide variety of categories that go beyond professional qualifications.
With a job such as a Supreme Court Justice, nothing is outside of the public eye. All facets of one’s life are examined when hearings begin. So, what about Barrett’s personal life?
In 2017, Judge Barrett was going through her confirmation hearing for the Court of Appeals and unsurprisingly, her unorthodox religious views came up.
Barrett is a member of a Catholic offshoot group called the People of Praise. The group’s birth was a result of the charismatic revival of religious traditions in the sixties and the seventies, and was eventually expanded by the Second Vatican Council.
The New York Times ran a story immediately after her hearings which investigated this group and unearthed how their organization operates. In it, they reported that members “are assigned and are accountable to a personal adviser, called a 'head' for men and a 'handmaid' for women.” This adviser is their own personal counselor who helps the member make major life decisions. They divulge all facets of their life to this person and in turn, they give them instruction on how to proceed with dating, marriage, jobs, friends and the raising of children.
That is perfectly fine if a private citizen requires instruction and advice in their daily lives, but what about a Supreme Court Justice?
Claims of misogyny have also been leveled, as the Times reported in that same article that “the group teaches that husbands are the heads of their wives and should take authority over the family.”
There was no shortage of rumors questioning the rationality behind this group. Some have also labelled it a “cult,” and former members are the ones with the most concerning allegations and stories to tell.
Interestingly enough, the People of Praise require their members to take a lifelong pledge to remain with the organization, which the community insists they are free to withdraw from at any time.
America Magazine published a review of the People of Praise recently, wherein they reported that the group believes in “speaking in tongues, healing services and prophecy.” For the uninitiated, speaking in tongues is a Christian theme in which a divine deity speaks its own language through a human, in some uber-religious experience. To simplify, think of any horror movie where the eight-year-old girl is possessed and begins speaking perfect Latin.
While that is certainly an interesting claim for the People of Praise to make, I take greater issue with their claims of healing services, the belief that prayer can result in divine healing. I would not presume to look down on anyone for their religious beliefs, as long as they do not harm another living being, but I do take offense to the notion of healing services being promoted as a reality.
There is no evidence that divine healing is a reality, but there are sensationalized rumors which spread the seeds of mysticism. This is a dangerous precedent and for the uninformed, I would suggest it works against science and medicine to help cure and treat most afflictions by promoting the belief that prayer has equal, if not superior, results.
The most troubling part, however, is that the nominee for the Supreme Court has pledged herself to this group who subscribes to these beliefs, and this leaves questions as to what she believes. There is an air of sacredness to many religious beliefs that make it all but impossible to criticize them without being labelled a bigot, but that should end once public safety is involved. I do not presume that the People of Praise suggest exclusively divine healing as an effective treatment, such as Christian Scientists, but I would state with no tremble in my voice that religious healing ceremonies distract from legitimate science. Even the Catholic Church promotes the theme of “faith and reason.”
Where is the reason here?
Now, presumably none of us have stepped foot in one of their group meetings. We have no primary experience to inform our understanding of this community. What we do have, however, is an overwhelming number of articles detailing unorthodox practices by this community and a few concerning allegations of misconduct.
I am by no means suggesting that Judge Barrett subscribes to everything within the People of Praise. We simply do not know — and that is the issue. Amy Coney Barrett has made no attempts to clarify her involvement with this group and that has led to individual investigations which have presented concerning details.
Her personal beliefs would have no impact on the rest of the country if she was a private citizen or even a U.S. Judge in the Court of Appeals, but the circumstances change with the Supreme Court.
Fundamentally, the question lies within whether or not she will be able to separate her covenant and personal religious beliefs from her prestigious position and the values of the Supreme Court. Judge Barrett is an originalist, meaning those who view the Constitution as an unchanging document — unless lawfully changed — and should be interpreted by the Founder’s original vision, not by changing times. Considering that, I would hope she recognizes and appreciates the Founder’s attempts to separate church and state, so that no particular religion could outweigh the institutions which we all place our faith in daily.
It remains to be seen if she can separate these two facets of her life and her 1998 article does not help clarify this either. In it, she suggests that Catholic judges presiding over capital punishment cases must recuse themselves, as Catholic teaching is against the death penalty. Of course, religious upbringing will help form her morality and beliefs, but it does not warrant that every case she presides over to be recolored through a religious lens.
Until Judge Barrett clarifies her involvement with the People of Praise and acknowledges that her obligation to uphold the Constitution outweighs any personal or religious covenant that may restrict, or otherwise impede her ability to function as a Supreme Court, she will be unfit to preside on that bench.
These questions need to be answered, and her problematic track record regarding abortion is a further detriment which are equally concerning. These upcoming hearings already have the makings of a polarizing debate between the parties, and if these concerns are not addressed and/or amended, I would not expect quasi-peaceful relations between the parties for some time.
Ian-Michael is a freshman studying Political Science and Journalism. Do you think Judge Barrett’s religious views could hinder her ability to preside over the bench? Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.Subscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter