Last week, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court, died at age 87 of pancreatic cancer. High on President Trump’s list of Supreme Court candidates, and often mentioned as a likely candidate to replace Justice Ginsburg, is Appellate Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett. President Trump would be well served to nominate Barrett. Yet even though Barrett is highly qualified, certain Democratic politicians and power-brokers will launch a scorched-earth campaign against her candidacy. At the center of this campaign will be insinuations about Barrett’s Catholic faith. Americans got a peek at this strategy two years ago during confirmation hearings for Barrett’s appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
“The dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) said during the September 2017 hearing, questioning whether Barrett could be simultaneously a faithful Catholic and responsible justice. The New York Times followed Feinstein’s remarks with an article suggesting Barrett’s faith might need even more questioning, given her involvement in a parachurch organization called People of Praise. Democratic Senate candidate Richard Painter tweeted a link to the article and commented that People of Praise looks like a cult.
There are other examples of attacks on Barrett, but the point is this: A number of Barrett’s Democratic opponents insinuate that her faith disqualifies her from the High Court. They are wrong to do so. The fact that Barrett is part of an association of Christians, People of Praise, who wish to live out their faith intentionally, is not disqualifying. How does this make her any different from the dozens of other Supreme Court justices—conservative and liberal—who have lived out their faith intentionally? Barrett’s Christianity should not preclude her from public office. America evaluates judicial nominees under three criteria—legal credentials, judicial philosophy, and personal character—and Barrett passes each criterion with flying colors.
First, Barrett’s legal credentials are impeccable. As legal experts, law school colleagues, and conservative legal foundations have attested, Barrett is highly qualified for a Supreme Court appointment. After graduating from Notre Dame Law School and clerking for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Barrett served in private practice, where she was part of a team that represented George W. Bush in Bush v. Gore. In addition, she served on the University of Notre Dame law faculty for fifteen years and published extensively in leading law journals before being appointed to the Court of Appeals.
Second, Barrett’s judicial philosophy is faithful to the founding fathers’ vision. As the Heritage Foundation has reported, “Barrett’s limited judicial opinions and academic writings indicate a commitment to originalism and textualism, much like her former boss, Scalia.”
In recent years, many federal judges have embraced a “living document” view of the Constitution. This progressive view contends that judges have the right to reinterpret the Constitution in light of “the times,” which means a SCOTUS majority can remove things from the Constitution that they do not like and insert things they do. The “living document” view enabled the Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges decisions.
In response to the progressive “living document” view, the conservative view is that the nine begowned lawyers of the Supreme Court do not have the right to revise the Constitution. America’s founders made it clear that amendments to the Constitution must reflect the will of the people; an amendment requires an overwhelming Congressional majority and ratification by three-fourths of the state legislatures. Justice Barrett—like her former boss, Justice Scalia—rejects the “living document” view. She would refrain from the type of judicial activism that bypasses the American people.
Third, her personal character meets the high standard necessary for serving on the High Court. Certain character attributes are desirable in a Supreme Court justice. We want them to be conscientious because we know that it takes hard work and perseverance to adjudicate complex legal issues. Similarly, we want our justices to be wise and discerning rather than simplistic or superficial. Perhaps most important, we want our justices to be trustworthy, the type of people who can’t be “bought off” by corporations or unduly influenced by politicians.
By all accounts, Barrett is just such a person. She was poised and even gracious during her contentious confirmation hearing for the Court of Appeals. She received vigorous bipartisan support from her 49 colleagues at Notre Dame Law, who expressed that they held a “wide range of political views” but were “united however in our judgment about Amy.” And Barrett even garnered support from prominent liberal lawyer Neal Katyal, who served as President Obama’s acting solicitor general.
In light of Barrett’s impeccable legal credentials, judicial philosophy, and personal character, as well as the robust report she’s received from legal experts on both sides of the aisle, let’s hope that Democrats will distance themselves from Barrett’s despisers, if Barrett is indeed nominated. They have an opportunity to eschew religious bigotry and send a message to the nation that Supreme Court justices should be evaluated on the basis of their merits.
Bruce Riley Ashford is provost of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Image via CSPAN.
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