The GOP's bad faith SCOTUS diversions

Democratic senators want to talk about constitutionality. Republican senators would prefer to focus on anything else.

Amy Coney Barrett.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock)

The first two days of the hearings being held by the Senate Judiciary Committee for the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett have reflected a simple pattern. Democratic senators want to talk about her views on constitutional questions; Senate Republicans would prefer to focus the discussion on anything else. As a diversion, Republican senators have repeatedly made preemptive defenses of Barrett's religious beliefs against imaginary Democratic attacks on them. But don't be fooled: These bad faith accusations of religious prejudice made by Republicans are meant to throw up a fog obscuring the fact that they want Barrett confirmed to help impose a radical and extremely unpopular policy agenda on a country that has repeatedly rejected it at the ballot box.

The Republican strategy has not been subtle. Senator after senator has asserted that Barrett is about to come under attack because of her devout Catholicism. But all of these arguments are figments of their imagination. Senate Democrats, hoping that by this time next month Joe Biden will have won his bid to become America's second practicing Roman Catholic president, have ignored her religious beliefs. This is smart politics (not that it was exactly hard to see the trap Republicans were setting — in the Trump era, the GOP can't really do cleverness or nuance.) But it's also the right thing to do on the merits. Barrett's religious beliefs are irrelevant. Organizations like the Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation ensure that aspiring Supreme Court justices have orthodox conservative views on the questions most important to contemporary Republicans, and Barrett's views are simply those of a conventional Trump appellate court nominee. What mixture of religious and secular beliefs motivates them is entirely irrelevant.

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Scott Lemieux

Scott Lemieux is a professor of political science at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, N.Y., with a focus on the Supreme Court and constitutional law. He is a frequent contributor to the American Prospect and blogs for Lawyers, Guns and Money.