President Trump reportedly has narrowed his list for the vacant Supreme Court seat to four sitting circuit court judges: Amy Coney Barrett, Thomas Hardiman, Brett Kavanaugh, and Raymond Kethledge.
Barrett, who has strong support among old-line conservative polemicists, is a member of an ecumenical group called People of Praise.
Many Catholics, including me, believe things that go beyond the deposit of faith and are based in private devotion. The rosary, saints, apparitions, there are many. Choosing a personal route to holiness is one of the interesting things about being Catholic.
Barrett’s private religious life is no doubt an expression of sincere piety and an admirable manifestation of religious autonomy. This is not a criticism. But there is a political point that needs to be made.
People of Praise emphasize something called “male headship.” Is it a good idea, politically, to try to reverse Roe v. Wade with the vote of a woman who can be credibly portrayed as doing what the men in her life tell her?
Maybe, if she were the only viable candidate. But she’s not.
The giddy support for Barrett is because her selection would make the other side go crazy. Trump has shown the effectiveness of political trolling in the social media age. But Trump is about trolling to win, not trolling for its own sake.
If ordinary people think the easily triggered have a point, the tactic backfires. Committing yourself to obey an ecumenical group’s male pastorship is not a mainstream Catholic thing to do. Many decent and even faithful people will say, “OK, that’s a little out there.”
Why even take that risk? The 50-year drive to change the composition of the Supreme Court is on the one-yard line and about to score. It is not the time for a pass play.
Some of those pushing Judge Barrett’s cause invite their own suspicions. Past-their-expiration-date Washington “conservatives” become relevant again in an all-out culture war. That is the one thing that will get them back on the Sunday shows.
National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru was the first to write a ringing endorsement of Judge Barrett, in a piece for Bloomberg. NeverTrumper Mona Charen has perused People of Praise’s website and has declared the group to be okeydokey.
David French, William Kristol’s choice as a third-party candidate to oppose Trump way back in ’16, wrote an article for National Review titled “Progressives Deploy Religious Ignorance and Bigotry to Stop Amy Coney Barrett.”
True, Senate Democrats were offensive in their ham-handed attempts to thwart Barrett’s ascension to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year. They stupidly questioned her Catholicism. People were rightly outraged.
The senators did not know about her membership in People of Praise because she did not have an obligation to cite it on her disclosure form. They know now and will not be so transparently bigoted this time.
The hearings would focus on People of Praise. Senators will present the testimony of its critics. The words “Catholic” and “dogma” will not cross their lips.
If you want a preview, check out “Not Reliable Guides” by Adrian J. Reimers and read about his time in the group, complete with anecdotes that will be retrofitted into uncomfortable questions.
Then imagine Senator Feinstein quoting the following passages from that critique to Judge Barrett and asking her to comment:
“It is the capital sin of pride not to reveal all your thoughts and opinions to your head for correction,” taught Sharon Rose, a community handmaid or leader of women, at a women’s retreat.
And this one:
Likewise in the People of Praise the emotions—especially women’s emotions—are distrusted, and among the women there is a frequent appeal to ‘where you are in your cycle’ in addressing “pastoral problems.”
Maybe she still squeaks by the Senate. Maybe, though, it gives red state Democrats political cover when voting against her: “I wanted to support Trump on that one, I did, but I just couldn’t get over the handmaid stuff.”
Which is not to say Barrett should be rejected in favor of an unreliable candidate. The vetting process is extremely important here. Barrett would almost certainly be reliable, which is a reason to support her even with this baggage.
But there is at least one other unquestionably reliable candidate. Thomas Hardiman—the runner-up for the Gorsuch appointment—is a former practicing attorney from Pittsburgh, where I also practice, who checks all the boxes. A former cab driver, he is emblematic of the Rust Belt voter who put Trump in office.
The dogma is strong in Judge Hardiman, too, although you would hardly know it because it remains a virtue among ordinary Catholics to not let the left hand know what the right hand is doing when it comes to that. He would cruise to confirmation. If this is about winning—and with Trump it usually is—then Hardiman should get the nod.
Bigwigs in Washington want Kavanaugh, but they are the same people who gave us Rod Rosenstein, which seems a little risky. Judge Raymond Kethledge is certainly intriguing, but very much an unknown.
This is not to advocate for or against any candidate, all of whom seem strong for their own reasons. It is just to say that gaining one yard to finally score here should not be as hard as the wrong choice would make it.