Chloe Ritter-Reece is a freshman politics major.
When Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative federal judge, was nominated to the Supreme Court to fill the late Justice Ruther Bader Ginsburg’s now-empty seat, a whirlpool of misinformation arose, such as her stances on abortion, gun rights, healthcare, and separation between church and state. During an age when partisan polarization and news bias is rampant, diminishing confusion about politics is critical for the United States.
Is Barrett’s nomination as big a threat as it is perceived to be? When President Donald Trump nominated her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in May 2017, few had heard her name, but ever since a contentious moment during her 2017 nomination before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Barrett has grown as a distinguished name in law. Many Catholics and non-religious Americans united to object to Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s, D-Calif., interrogation of Barrett’s religion during her nomination hearing. Widely criticized for her conduct, Feinstein said to Barrett, “the dogma lives loudly within you,” in reference to Barrett’s religious views. This was deeply offensive to Catholics and non-Catholic Americans who believe in the ‘no religious tests’ clause of the Constitution.
This moment, in conjunction with Barrett’s qualifications, put Barrett at the top of Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees. Barrett received her bachelor’s degree in English at Rhodes College and her law degree at Notre Dame Law School, then clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. In a press release, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi outlined that the dissent from Democrats is policy-based and not personal. Pelosi wrote, “This nomination threatens the destruction of lifesaving protections for 135 million Americans with pre-existing conditions together with every other benefit and protection of the Affordable Care Act.”
Another point of contention among Republicans and Democrats has been whether or not Barrett intends to separate church and state while on the bench. In a Notre Dame Law Review article that Barrett co-wrote junior to her professor, Barrett discussed Catholicism and the death penalty where she argued Catholic judges are, “morally precluded from enforcing the death penalty,” but “judges cannot — nor should they try to — align our legal system with the Church’s moral teaching whenever the two diverge.”
During her 2017 nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Barrett answered questions about her article. She said, “I continue to stand and vehemently believe the core proposition of that article, which is that if there is ever a conflict between a judge’s personal conviction and that judge’s duty under the rule of law, that it is never ever permissible for that judge to follow their personal convictions in the decision of a case rather than what the law requires.” Barrett defended her article as repeatedly emphasizing that point, which she says she “adheres to today.” Barrett’s law review article should be considered less when analyzing whether or not Barrett is able to sufficiently separate church and state.
Critics have also raised concerns that Barrett’s nomination would lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade’s precedent on abortion. However, Barrett has yet to discuss her stance on this issue (this will hopefully be addressed in her confirmation hearing). Overturning Roe v. Wade would eliminate protections for abortions and cause a tidal wave of radical change in women’s reproductive health, something conservatives (including Barrett) fundamentally want.
Barrett’s record does not indicate she will strike down on abortion. In Price v. Chicago, Barrett joined her colleagues in a unanimous panel decision to uphold a law Chicago city ordinance that prohibited anti-abortion sidewalk counselors from approaching people within 50 feet of an abortion clinic, displaying her ability to separate the law from the moral convictions she has expressed (like the ad she signed, calling abortion barbaric).
Additionally, when questioned “When it is proper for a judge to put their religious views above an application of the law?” by Feinstein, Barrett answered, “It’s never appropriate for a judge to impose that judge’s personal convictions, whether they derive from faith or anywhere else on the law.” At an event called “Reflections on Judging: A Conversation with Amy Barrett,” Barrett even said, “Interest in being a judge comes from interest in keeping the tradition of law, not being a policymaker.”
Inhibitions about someone’s ability to separate their moral convictions from the law are reasonable, however, it is a harmful premise to assume that religious people have a disproportionately harder time separating such convictions from the law than non-religious people do. This belief assumes that the moral convictions held by religious people are stronger than the ones held by non-religious people; in actuality, the moral convictions of non-religious people are on equal footing with those of religious people, and separating them is difficult for everyone. The interrogation of Barrett’s religious beliefs during her 2017 hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee was a thinly veiled way to consider an attorney’s religion in their appointment as a federal judge, which is inconsistent with the Constitution’s ‘no religious test’ clause.Trump’s Supreme Court nomination will surely go down as one of the most contentious in history. Whether the contention blooms from Barrett’s association with Trump, Barrett’s perceived threat to democracy, or the alleged COVID-19 outbreak at her announcement ceremony, rumors surrounding her nomination will only serve to discredit the politicians and journalists who produce them. While popular now, sensationalism serves no one but chaos.