Amy Coney Barrett doesn’t deserve your defense because of her religion any more than she deserves criticism for it.
Of course, the actual critique is not her religious belief, but her belief that she has a duty to use her position in the courts to impose those beliefs on others.
The conservative movement talks a lot about patriotism. Their vision of patriotism is celebrating the history of a country whose past reflects their current values. This is not an active patriotism of taking part in the American project today and weaving ourselves in her fabric.
A higher form of patriotism actively participates in the American, small-l, liberal democratic tradition. In this patriotism, pride in America is connected to how she welcomed those of us with nowhere else to go. Her ongoing project and triumphs come from her struggle to build a functioning civil society out of radical pluralism. Patriotism in America is using the civic process to accept and incorporate people of all backgrounds into her body-politic.
I am Jewish, and until recently, I have found safety in America. That safety has been challenged many times in the past, and has, at times been compromised. Patriots view this with shame. Patriots view slavery with shame. They view Jim Crow with shame. They view the backlash against the Civil Rights movement, past and current tense, with shame. They view the treatment of Chinese immigrants throughout the 19th and early 20th century with shame. They view the treatment of Catholics in public schools with shame, and the questions of JFK’s loyalty to the nation with shame.
Patriotic America celebrates radical pluralism. Every moment we celebrate in American political religion is about expansion of our ideals, welcoming new people and new thoughts into our project. Every moment we view with shame is about rejection.
It is in the context that the pre-accusations that Democrats or “The Left” are and will attack Amy Coney Barrett on her religion bring to mind the words of the Bard– she doth protest too much.
In a now off-cited law review article written when Barrett was 22, she herself posits that a Catholic judge may not be able to sit impartially over a death penalty case. The article is detailed, strong scholarship, if boring to someone disinterested in the finer points of the teachings of the Catholic Church. While it repeatedly states that trying to bring Catholic dogma and the law into alignment is neither possibly nor advisable for a judge, it makes clear there are moments a Catholic judge must use their discretion to act in accordance with their faith. Fair enough– exercising discretion in ways that align to personal moral beliefs is part of the role of being a judge, wherever those beliefs stem from.
Barrett is clear– her particular beliefs, grounded in her particular sect of Catholicism, will impact her jurisprudence, just like every judges. With her paltry three-year long history as a judge, we know she is being chosen, in fact, to sit on the highest court for possibly the next 40 years based not on her history as a jurist, but instead based on her belief. You cannot separate the reason the conservative right is excited for a Justice Barrett from her religion. Her legal scholarship is infused with her religion, and her record on her religious beliefs is thicker than her record as a judge.
So yes, her personal Catholicism and what we know about it is going to be deeply entwined with any rigorous discussion of where her jurisprudence will steer the country. That’s not an attack on Catholicism, her religion does not disqualify her, that her religion impacts her morality and legal scholarship does not disqualify her.
Amy Coney Barrett holds views I find personally abhorrent. So do other members of the court, Catholic or not, and so do many members of the GOP and the conservative movement. I oppose them for those beliefs. I oppose them because I believe that they will lead to the material deprivation of the people I share this country with. I oppose them because I believe they will lead us away from America’s moments of radical pluralism. I oppose them because I believe they are wrong for me as an individual and wrong for this country. I oppose them because the Christian Conservative movement oppresses, no matter how much they claim oppression for themselves.
If you think this means I am anti-Catholic, it is probably because you believe that I cannot consider a narrow set of your beliefs as abhorrent while practicing radical acceptance for you in the society we share. This is not true. I can love you in spite of your beliefs. I can protect your right to those beliefs. I can love you in the beliefs that we share and welcome all of you with radical pluralism. The ends of my acceptance lie when your personal power and exercise of those beliefs endanger the “institutions of liberty” 1.
A Justice Barrett on this court certainly qualifies.
Rawls, John (1971). A Theory of Justice. p. 220. ISBN 978-0-674-00078-0. And yes, taken from Wikipedia, because I knew Rawls wrote about the paradox of tolerance in a way that resonated with me and that was where Google took me. The phrasing of putting “institutions of liberty in danger” was too precisely what I wanted to say for me to not site it and admit provenance. In general, if you want to know what I think of the world, it’s a pretty good bet that you can start with Rawls and walk a long distance before finding disagreement on the finer points. ↩︎