GOP Condemns Attacks on Barrett as Democrats Map Out Strategy for Confirmation Hearing

October 9, 2020 Updated: October 9, 2020

The political battle to shape the Senate’s vote on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation went into full force soon after the 48-year-old stepped down from the podium in the Rose Garden on Sept. 26 accepting President Donald Trump’s nomination.

Since then, political groups and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have either been hurling criticism at or dispensing praise for the nominee, whose confirmation is set to influence the ideological balance of the Supreme Court for years to come.

Many of the attacks seen in the media are focused on her religious faith, as some members of the press and liberal groups dig deep to offer material for the upcoming hearings. Some reports have targeted Barrett’s membership with the People of Praise, a Christian community organization. The group has been scrutinized because it previously referred to its female leaders as “handmaids,” a term which originates from the Bible but was popularized after Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” became a television show.

The Guardian reported that Barrett had stayed in the home of one of the founders of the People of Praise. The report claims that the group has been criticized for adhering to a “strict authoritarian structure,” including the idea that husbands are considered the head of their household. The report’s attempt to paint a picture that the association with this group is likely to taint Barrett’s role as a Supreme Court judge.

“The revelation offers new clues about the possible influence of the People of Praise, and one of its leaders, on a woman who may shape the direction of the supreme court for the next 40 to 50 years,” the report states.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett speaks
Judge Amy Coney Barrett speaks after being nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Donald Trump in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, on Sept. 26, 2020. (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

These attempts to smear Barrett come against a backdrop where the then-professor fielded multiple questions about her Catholic faith from senators during her 2017 confirmation hearing for her nomination to the 7th Circuit Court. She was confronted with statements such as “the dogma lives loudly within you” by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and was also asked whether she was an “orthodox Catholic,” by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

The hostile questioning by the senators aimed at getting to the bottom of whether Barrett was able to separate her religious views from her legal opinions, especially on the issue of abortion. Such questioning had engendered frustration among religious leaders and conservatives as to whether an unconstitutional religious test was being applied to judicial nominees.

Republican lawmakers have characterized these “ongoing attacks by Senate Democrats and the media” on Barrett’s religious faith as “a disgrace.”

“These euphemisms fool no one. United States senators are suggesting that Judge Barrett is too Christian or the wrong kind of Christian to be a good Judge,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wrote in a statement on Wednesday.

“Every Supreme Court Justice in history has possessed personal views. Judges have a job to do and they swear to do it impartially. It is the definition of discrimination to assert that Justice Barrett’s particular faith makes her uniquely unqualified for this promotion.”

Other senators on the Republican side, such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), have also condemned the attempts to discredit Barrett because of her faith.

Democrats to Focus on Issues

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats have signaled that Barrett’s religious faith would not be a focus during the upcoming hearing. Instead, they would focus on issues such as health care and abortion.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that her faith should not be an issue during the hearing.

“It is appropriate for us to question her statements, her opinions, her actions as a professor and judge, but not to go into questions of doctrine or faith personally,” Coon said. “That’s where I’ll be focusing my questions: on the Affordable Care Act and on what she has said publicly about her views on its constitutionality.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 10, 2020. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told ABC’s “The View” that part of the Democrats’ strategy against the judge is to “let the American people know that their specific rights are at stake.” The senator said the debate would be focused on issues such as healthcare and access to abortion.

In a letter to the Democratic caucus, Schumer urged his colleagues to focus on health care as the primary issue to oppose Barrett’s nomination.

“Here is my suggestion for the best strategy for fighting back: health care, health care, health care. Our number one job is to communicate exactly what is at stake for the American people if Republicans jam through this nominee. The elimination of the Affordable Care Act is at the top of the list,” Schumer wrote in the letter obtained by some media outlets.

Judge Barrett’s Challenges

Carrie Severino, the president of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, told The Epoch Times that Barrett’s confirmation will have a significant bearing on the ideological balance of the nation’s top court in the long run, which means she would face intense resistance from critics. The importance of Barrett’s nomination, she said, is similar to Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, who was nominated to replace Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, the former swing justice on the court.

During Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing, members of the left were willing to “pull out all the stops to do whatever it takes to block [the] nomination,” Severino said. She added that from this experience, Barrett is likely to face the same reception during the Senate hearing.

“So what we’ve learned is that that includes everything from misconstruing their record, to attempting to undermine the nomination by disclosing confidential documents, even documents that are protected by federal law, in terms of their confidentiality,” Severino said.

She added that senators could try to ask “trick” questions designed to portray it as perjury, as well as items from Barrett’s record such as cases that she ruled on during her three years as an appeals court judge.

Severino said senators could try to bring up things in Barrett’s life to smear her character by, for example, using her faith or even her adoption of two children from Haiti. On the day Barrett was nominated, Boston University professor Ibram X. Kendi suggested on Twitter that the Barretts were “White colonizers” for adopting orphaned children from Haiti in order to “civilize” the children in the “superior” ways of caucasian people, “while cutting the biological parents of these children out of the picture of humanity.”

Kendi’s post quickly received backlash and criticism, which prompted the professor to explain his comments in a subsequent post. He said, “I’m challenging the idea that White parents of kids of color are inherently ‘not racist’ and the bots completely change what I’m saying to ‘White parents of kids of color are inherently racist.’ These live and fake bots are good at their propaganda. Let’s not argue with them.”

“I think being an adoptive parent is something that should be celebrated, not derided,” Severino said. “But that’s not the approach that some on the left have taken.”

Senators from both sides of the aisle are likely to also compel Barrett to commit to voting a certain way in a particular case, or types of cases, Severino said, adding that if Barrett refuses, they could frame it as “she’s dodging questions, she’s trying to hide.”

“Either way, I can tell you ahead of time, she’s not going to be able to answer those questions, because as a federal judge, there are ethical guidelines that say you can’t commit to how you would vote in a future case likely to come before you,” Severino said.

“This is a long-standing feature of Supreme Court hearings,” she added.

Many justices on the Supreme Court were faced with such questioning during their confirmation hearings. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg famously set the “no hints, no forecasts, no previews” standard during her 1993 confirmation hearing, which was repeated by then-Judge John Roberts during his 2005 confirmation hearing.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg leaves the stage after speaking to first-year students at Georgetown Law in Washington on Sept. 26, 2018. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo)

“You are well aware that I came to this proceeding to be judged as a judge, not as an advocate. Because I am and hope to continue to be a judge, it would be wrong for me to say or preview in this legislative chamber how I would cast my vote on questions the Supreme Court may be called upon to decide. Were I to rehearse here what I would say and how I would reason on such questions, I would act injudiciously,” Ginsburg said at the time.

“Judges in our system are bound to decide concrete cases, not abstract issues; each case is based on particular facts and its decision should turn on those facts and the governing law, stated and explained in light of the particular arguments the parties or their representatives choose to present,” she added. “A judge sworn to decide impartially can offer no forecasts, no hints, for that would show not only disregard for the specifics of the particular case, it would display disdain for the entire judicial process.”

Some senators have already indicated that they will ask Barrett to recuse herself from cases involving the 2020 presidential election if the case reaches the top court.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) previously told NBC that he would ask Barrett whether she would be willing to recuse herself.

“I’m going to make it very clear. One of the things I want to ask her is will she recuse herself in terms of any election issues that come before us because if she does not recuse herself, I fear that the court will be further delegitimized,” Booker, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said.

Responding to a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire (pdf), Barrett did not indicate whether she would do so.

Follow Janita on Twitter: @janitakan