With Donald Trump expected to name his Supreme Court nominee on Saturday, and with all eyes on Judge Amy Coney Barrett, conservatives have already latched on to a talking point about how any questions regarding Barrett’s faith and how it might influence her legal thinking are inherently anti-Catholic.
Even before @realDonaldTrump announces his #SCOTUS nominee, Democrats and Blue Bubble media have begun to voice their anti-Catholic bias. That anti-Catholic bias is deep and enduring. That "dogma lives deeply within" the Democrats, and every Catholic in America should know it.
— Hugh Hewitt (@hughhewitt) September 23, 2020
Are Democrats prepared to say a devout Catholic is by definition unfit to serve on the Supreme Court? If no pro-life Justice is acceptable then no faithful Catholic, Evangelical or Orthodox Jew can be considered. Are Democrats really prepared to alienate that many Americans?
— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) September 21, 2020
More than anything, they’re pointing to a foolish comment Sen. Dianne Feinstein made during Barrett’s 2017 confirmation hearing for a seat on the federal bench when she said “the dogma lives loudly within you.” It was a bad choice of words from a senator who clearly didn’t understand how conservatives would latch onto it, but her point was still valid; She was suggesting, not unfairly, that faith would influence Barrett’s decisions because there was clear evidence of that from her past writings. I talked about those writings here.
But since you’re going to hear the “anti-Catholic” angle quite a bit in the coming weeks — the other frontrunner for the nomination is Judge Barbara Lagoa, who’s also Catholic — let’s just quickly run through the connections between Catholics and the Democratic Party.
- The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate (Joe Biden) is Catholic.
- The 2016 Democratic vice presidential candidate (Tim Kaine) was Catholic.
- The 2012 Democratic vice presidential candidate (Biden) was Catholic.
- The 2008 Democratic vice presidential candidate (Biden) was Catholic.
- The 2004 Democratic presidential candidate (John Kerry) was Catholic.
- The current Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is Catholic.
- The current head of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez, is Catholic.
- The first Supreme Court pick from President Obama, Sonia Sotomayor, was Catholic.
- Several members of President Obama’s cabinet — Kerry, Perez, Hilda Solis, Julián Castro — were Catholic.
- Of the 235 House Democrats elected in 2018, 87 were Catholic — more than a third.
- 60% of all the Catholics currently in Congress are Democrats.
- The only Catholic president in U.S. history, John F. Kennedy, was a Democrat.
The problem for Democrats isn’t Catholicism. The problem for Democrats is a Catholic judge who decides her religious beliefs are more valid than the Constitution and legal precedent when it comes to applying the law. Those are fair questions to ask of any judicial nominee.
To take a page from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, we deserve to know if Trump’s next Supreme Court pick thinks religious exemptions should be permitted under the law when it comes to health care or discrimination in the workplace, and if taxpayers should be funding religious activity, and if religious freedom applies to everyone, and if public school officials can promote or sponsor prayers.
It’s worth asking her positions on abortion (which the Catholic Church opposes) and same-sex marriage (which the Catholic Church opposes), and birth control (which the Catholic Church opposes).
This isn’t even hypothetical: On November 4, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, all about whether a taxpayer-funded, faith-based foster care agency should be allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ families or ones whose religious beliefs don’t line up with their own. It matters if a judge’s faith would influence a decision there.
Barrett has said before, during a commencement address at Notre Dame Law School, that a legal career is a means to an end and “that end is building the kingdom of God.” That could be perfectly innocuous, meaning we want to build a more just and fair society, or it could mean something far more disturbing, but there’s nothing wrong with asking about it. (For what it’s worth, President Obama said something similar.)
Those are all valid legal questions.
And considering that Barrett has said in the past that Catholic judges should “conform their own behavior to the Church’s standard,” it’s worth digging into what exactly that means.
Asking those questions isn’t anti-Catholic. It’s quite literally the job of the U.S. Senate. It would be a dereliction of duty to avoid those topics just because Republicans fantasize about religious rule and will cry “PERSECUTION” anytime someone’s religion is even questioned. (Meanwhile, conservatives will lash out against a Muslim congresswoman without a second thought. Or a first thought.)
As for Barrett’s personal faith, it’s mostly irrelevant. She’s involved in a group called People of Praise that is unaffiliated with the Catholic Church, called women “handmaidens” (though they were doing that before the word was used in Margaret Atwood‘s book and took on a very different meaning), and asks members to swear a lifelong “oath of loyalty” to the group. As I’ve said before, all of it is weird, but it’s no less weird than any other religious myth. I don’t care what she does or believes in her personal life. All that matters is how that would affect her decision-making on the Court.
It’s not anti-Catholic to raise that concern. It sure as hell isn’t anti-Catholic for Democrats to point all this out before a potential lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. Don’t let Republicans trick you into thinking otherwise.