Washington Wednesday – Judge Barrett’s faithful foundation

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday, the 14th of October, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up: Washington Wednesday. 

Judge Amy Coney Barrett faces day three today of the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing.  

Republicans point to Judge Barrett’s experience that makes her more than qualified to be a Supreme Court justice. She attended Notre Dame law school, graduated first in her class, clerked for the late Justice Antonin Scalia and worked in private law practice. Then Barrett began teaching at Notre Dame, where she remains on the faculty. President Trump appointed her in 2017 to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

REICHARD: But Democrats say her beliefs disqualify her from serving on the Supreme Court. What are those supposedly radical beliefs? WORLD’s Jamie Dean did some investigating for her recent profile of Judge Barrett and joins us now to talk about them.

Good morning, Jamie!

JAMIE DEAN, REPORTER: Good morning, Mary.

REICHARD: You recently wrote about Amy Coney Barrett’s religious beliefs, and how they may or may not affect her work as a potential Supreme Court Justice. How did this question become such a hot topic in the run up to the hearing on her confirmation this week?

DEAN: Well, it originally became a hot topic because Democratic senators made it a hot topic three years ago when a Senate panel questioned Barrett during a hearing over her confirmation as a federal judge in a U.S. District Court.

REICHARD: Remind us what happened during that hearing.

DEAN: Yeah, I think the most famous—or maybe infamous—part of that hearing came when Dianne Feinstein, a longtime Democratic senator from California, asked a series of questions regarding how Barrett’s devout Catholicism might influence her role as a judge. And Feinstein told her she was concerned that quote—“the dogma lives loudly within you.”

REICHARD: How did that go over?

DEAN: Not that well. Conservative groups took that statement as a badge of honor, and started printing up T-shirts that said things like “the dogma lives loudly within me.” But that wasn’t the only moment when the issue of religion came up. Senator Al Franken of Minnesota questioned Barrett about why she spoke at an event for the Blackstone Fellowship.

Senator Franken pointed out that the Blackstone Fellowship is a program run by the religious liberty law firm Alliance Defending Freedom. And he made a big deal over the fact that the Southern Poverty Law Center had designated Alliance Defending Freedom “a hate group.”

Now, we know that the SPLC has also designated Christian organizations like the Family Research Council as hate groups, so this moniker doesn’t give us a particularly fair picture of how we should define hate. And the other thing Senator Franken did not acknowledge was that three months earlier, attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom had won a religious liberty case at the Supreme Court. And the justices ruled 7-2 in favor of their arguments.

REICHARD: OK, let’s fast-forward to this week: When members of the Senate Judiciary Committee gave opening comments during the first day of Barrett’s confirmation hearing, they didn’t bring up her Catholic faith. Why do you think they didn’t emphasize it right from the start?

DEAN: A couple of thoughts here: The Democratic senators led by emphasizing the Affordable Care Act, and raised concerns that Barrett had expressed disagreement in the past over how the Supreme Court had upheld that law. I think the senators know healthcare is a really important issue to millions of Americans, and it’s a smart strategy to emphasize this right before an election.

I also think they saw the backlash from that religion-based line of questioning in 2017, and possibly wanted to tread carefully. But they also probably know that questions about Barrett’s religious beliefs were being hashed out by many different news outlets in the run up to these hearings. So even if the senators never question Barrett’s personal beliefs, many news outlets have been doing that very thing.


DEAN: There have been several stories casting suspicions about an organization Barrett has been connected to called People of Praise. This is an independent, Christian group founded in the 1970s. It describes itself as a charismatic Christian community. The membership is mostly Catholic, but it is open to Protestants as well.

There are chapters of this group in several states around the country. They meet for fellowship and times of worship, in addition to members attending their own churches that aren’t formally connected to the group. The organization has founded four Christian schools over the last few decades.

One thing that’s gotten a lot of attention is that the group calls its membership agreement a covenant. But they emphasize that this does not involve taking an oath or a vow, and they say that members are free to follow their consciences.

Some news outlets have also pointed out what they consider to be darkly controversial: They say this group teaches a wife should submit to her husband’s leadership. This, of course, isn’t controversial at all to many Christians in churches where this Biblical principle is taught.

And the idea that Barrett is under some form of oppressive leadership by her husband seems undercut by the fact that he literally stood with her as she accepted a nomination to the highest court in the land.

REICHARD: What about Barrett’s faith and her views of abortion?

DEAN: This has certainly gotten a lot of attention as well.

Barrett belonged to the pro-life group University Faculty for Life for about six years at Notre Dame, where she teaches. And in 2006, she signed onto a statement by a local pro-life organization that said the signatories, quote “oppose abortion on demand and defend the right to life from fertilization to death.” End quote.

This statement ran as an ad in a local newspaper. The pro-life organization that organized the statement also bought an ad on the opposite page that called for, quote, “an end to the barbaric legacy of Roe v. Wade.” End quote. It wasn’t quite clear to me whether the hundreds of people who signed the group’s statement on the first page—decrying abortion in general—had also signed off on the ad on the opposite page regarding Roe v. Wade.

But whatever the case, I think here’s the point to bear in mind: Pro-life views are not surprising for a Catholic who embraces her church’s official teaching about  abortion.

Barrett’s pro-life views also aren’t surprising considering that she and her husband have seven children, including two adopted from Haiti. They seem like a couple who value children and who value life. These shouldn’t be shocking realities.

REICHARD: It does raise questions about how Barrett might rule on a challenge to Roe v. Wade, wouldn’t it? 

DEAN: Certainly the question comes up. But I think some pro-abortion advocates have viewed Barrett’s nomination as a death knell for Roe v. Wade, and some pro-life groups have viewed her nomination as a slam dunk for overturning the decision.

But that’s not been the way Barrett has talked about it in the past.

In a 2013 lecture at Notre Dame, she said she thought it was unlikely the court would overturn Roe. She said, quote: “The fundamental element, that the woman has a right to choose abortion, will probably stand.” End quote. 

In 2016, Barrett again said she thought it was unlikely the court would try to overturn Roe. She said, quote: “The question is how much freedom the court is willing to let states have in regulating abortion.” End quote.

That’s already become a key question as states have passed a slew of laws aimed at regulating abortion. In June, the Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law requiring abortionists to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. So this question of how the high court will allow states to make decisions about abortion does seem to be on the forefront of the legal battle over abortion.

When it comes to how Barrett’s religious or personal views of Roe would affect her work in a courtroom, she told the Senate panel in 2017 that a judge should always adhere to the law—not her personal beliefs—when ruling. 

So none of that tells us exactly how Barrett would rule on specific cases, or how she might conclude the law applies in specific circumstances, but it does give us an idea of how she might approach thinking about those issues.

RECIHARD: Do you think abortion proponents will take her word on that?

DEAN: Well, it’s unlikely. Planned Parenthood strongly condemned her appointment as a federal judge in 2017, and they’re against her nomination to the Supreme Court now. I think this will continue to come up as fodder in the presidential campaigns.

That probably won’t affect the confirmation process. The Senate Judiciary Committee is likely to recommend her as the nominee, and if enough Republican senators remain healthy and can show up for a full Senate vote, she appears to be on track for being confirmed by the Senate, quite possibly before the election.

But if the last few weeks have taught us anything, I think they’ve reminded us not to boast about tomorrow because we truly do not know what a day will bring. So we’ll have to wait and see.

REICHARD: We will indeed. Jamie Dean is WORLD’s national editor and chief political reporter. She recently profiled Judge Amy Coney Barrett for WORLD Magazine, and we’ll link to that story in today’s transcript. Thanks for joining us, Jamie.

DEAN: You’re welcome, Mary.

(Samuel Corum/Pool via AP) Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett speaks during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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