Amy Barrett for the Supreme Court
Why Trump should nominate this distinguished appeals judge to replace Justice Kennedy
There are any number of reasons why I think the best choice for the next Supreme Court justice is Judge Amy Coney Barrett, whom President Trump appointed only last year to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
One is that, practically speaking, she has already been through something nearly as taxing as the confirmation process for the high court is likely to be and come through sane.
The hearings on Barrett's nomination were one of the most appalling spectacles in our recent political history. When Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) condescendingly declared that "the dogma lives loudly within you," what she was saying, in essence, is that a person who wishes to serve the American people may check "Catholic" as a box on a census form and perhaps root for the Fighting Irish on Saturday afternoons in the fall if she likes, so long as she does not insist upon doing anything so gauche as believing in all that moth-eaten Romish superstition.
So far from being rejected out of hand by all decent persons as obvious bigotry, Feinstein's charge was taken up by The New York Times and various liberal groups, who attempted to caricature Barrett as some kind of ultra-traditionalist Catholic radical on the basis of her membership in an organization called People of Praise. This body, which is not affiliated with the Church or any Protestant denomination, is devoted to so-called "charismatic" spirituality: guitar hymns and a somewhat gushy attitude towards prayer. Nothing could be further removed from the high-and-dry devotional lives of actual traditionalist Catholics, whose responses to the charismatic movement since its inception have tended to range from "Not my cup of tea, thanks!" to accusations of heresy.
Even more revolting, especially in light of the revelations that were to come some months later, was the windbaggery of now ex-Sen. Al Franken. With his signature lawnmower drone, he accused Barrett of having twice been paid by a "hate group," by which he meant a legal charity that mostly defends rural communities against spurious lawsuits from out-of-town atheists who want to take away their municipal nativity displays and that sort of thing. The Alliance for Defending Freedom has won five cases in front of the Supreme Court, the most recent of which, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, was decided with a swing vote from the outgoing Justice Anthony Kennedy. If the author of the Obergefell majority opinion is an enabler of "hate" for taking their side, this is the first I have heard of the accusation.
Though none of them said it in as many words, I think it is likely that the three Democratic senators who eventually voted to confirm Barrett — Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), and, astonishingly, Tim Kaine (Va.) — were as taken aback by their colleagues' behavior as many ordinary Americans were. This to my mind suggests that she will have no trouble getting the necessary votes to be confirmed if she is nominated for another position. It is hard to see how it would be possible for any of them to argue a year later that she is beyond the pale.
If any more proof were necessary of the steeliness of Barrett's character, it is worth pointing out that she has managed to have a successful career as a scholar and teacher while raising seven children. Out of 113 Supreme Court justices in our nation's history, only four have been women, and I for one think we are due for another. This is not only because the present disparity is unjustifiable given the current distribution of the sexes in the legal profession. I would be guilty of dissembling if I did not admit that, like our paper of record and progressive activists throughout this country, I fully expect that sooner or later a court of which Barrett were a member would overturn Roe v. Wade. That a woman should be responsible for undoing this legally sanctioned perversion of the most wholesome relationship in nature, that between a mother and her child, seems to me right in a way that is almost ineffable.
Finally, there is something to be said, I think, for the idea of having someone who did not attend an Ivy League law school on the Supreme Court for a change. Gifted as the faculty and alumni of Harvard and Yale no doubt are, it is difficult to think that the accidents by which a small fraction of would-be American lawyers happen to receive instruction from these august personalities are an exhaustive test of one's ability to interpret statutes.
Barrett, a Notre Dame law grad who continues to teach at her alma mater after being elevated to the Seventh Circuit Court, clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia. She is a well-respected scholar in a variety of areas who has contributed to the nation's most esteemed legal journals. She is a beloved teacher who has three times been voted Notre Dame's "Outstanding Professor of the Year" by graduating classes. Adrian Vermeule, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard and noted critic of the originalist judicial philosophy with which Barrett has been associated, told me that he is almost frightened of her. "I lectured on my last book at Notre Dame and she asked the absolute sharpest, most penetrating questions. She is scary smart." The legal profession at large agrees; a majority of the American Bar Association's standing committee on judicial nominations rated her "well qualified" last year. There is absolutely no question of her pedigree.
Which is why we need not dwell on the implications of her so-far hypothetical nomination, however much grief it might bring to one's political opponents. If anything it is almost boorish. Barrett should be nominated by the president and confirmed for the very simple reason that she is a gifted legal mind respected by her colleagues and a person of outstanding character whose presence on our country's highest court would do credit to the United States and her people.