It’s hard to think of a nominee to the Supreme Court who was more poised, confident, and substantive before the Judiciary Committee than Judge Amy Coney Barrett — or who offered a greater contrast between her own judicial temperament and the temperament of the solons before whom she was sitting. She deserves to be sent to the full Senate for a prompt vote on the floor and an early confirmation to the high bench.
The Democrats did refrain — at least so far — from launching against Judge Barrett the kind of salacious personal attack that Senator Feinstein uncorked in an effort two years ago to derail the nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. And that was used, when Senator Biden was chairing the Judiciary committee, against Justice Clarence Thomas. That was nearly 30 years ago and still horrifies.
Yet in some deep sense, the senators’ attempts to impose a religious test on Judge Barrett are even more shocking. The Constitution, after all, doesn’t forbid the senators from inquiring into sexual harassment. It does, though, prohibit imposing a religious test. “No . . . ever . . . any,” the parchment says. Despite the Democrats’ protestations, the hearing of Judge Barrett was one big religious test.
The stage was set when Judge Barrett was put up for the Seventh Circuit and Senator Feinstein expressed concern that her religious dogma lived loudly within her. Now the senators insisted they oppose religious tests but tested anyhow. Senator Blumenthal resorted to a particularly pompous preterition — claiming to despise religious tests and to be interested in only the law, while asking about cases that showed the opposite.
We’d call it the soft bigotry of low expectations, except that it’s not so soft. The Wall Street Journal’s Dan Henninger, in a particularly on-point podcast about the Barrett hearing, aired a clip of Senator McConnell calling the kind of test to which Judge Barrett was subjected the “exact form that religious discrimination has taken in America for decades.” Senator Hawley also did a fine job in marking this point.
Nor is it but the senators. Some of our most powerful newspapers rushed out reporters to dig into Judge Barrett’s religious views. The Washington Post and New York Times each sent three reporters to investigate Judge Barrett’s religious community, “People of Praise” and report that she’d been a “handmaid,” a leadership title for women who help other women in the community.
None of this seemed to faze Judge Barrett. She suffered all the senatorial and journalistic slights with such equanimity that we wonder whether the Barrett confirmation, if it is successful, will become a turning point. Might young women watching Judge Barrett — with her happy marriage, seven children, and Article III judgeship — begin to wonder whether religion is not oppressive of women but rather is empowering?
We don’t want to carry that point too far. It’s not our intention to suggest that religious faith is any kind of precondition for a judgeship or other office of trust under the United States. That, too, would be a bright line violation of the Constitution. It is our intention to suggest that it’s time for the Senate to promote Judge Barrett to the Nine and to express the hope that we have seen the last of religious tests in a Senate that bills itself as the world’s greatest deliberative body.