A conservative choice - GulfToday

A conservative choice

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee Amy Coney Barrett is a controversial choice as she has had only three years’ experience as a judge on a Chicago federal appeals court.

Donald Trump has, as expected, nominated arch-conservative Amy Coney Barrett to replace assertive liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the US Supreme Court. Trump’s intention is to hold hearings on her suitability in the 100-member Senate, where the Republicans have a 53 seat majority, in order to secure her confirmation ahead of the Nov.3 election. This would give six Republican-appointed conservatives control of the nine member court. While Democrats have cried foul, there is little or nothing they can do about this legal coup which could ensure conservative domination of the court for decades as Barrett is only 48 years old while Trump’s other nominees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, are in their 50s.

Trump has invested his political standing in this nomination although more than 60 per cent of the US public opposes making such an important appointment ahead of the election. However, Trump, who intends to contest the result of the election if he loses, is determined to seat conservatives who could vote to overturn a narrow win in the presidential poll by Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

Born in 1972 in New Orleans, Louisiana, Barrett is the eldest of seven children. Her father is a lawyer, her mother a French teacher. Barrett studied English literature in Tennessee and attended law school at Notre Dame University where she graduated top of her class. She received her break when securing a clerkship for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia from 1998-99. She practiced law at a private firm before returning to Notre Dame to teach and conduct research. Trump nominated her for a federal judgeship in 2017. She is married to Jesse Barrett, a Notra Dame graduate and fellow lawyer, with whom he had five children, the last with Downs’s syndrome. They also adopted two Haitian children.   

Barrett is a controversial choice for a number of reasons. Young for the post of associate justice, Barrett has had only three years’ experience as a judge on a Chicago federal appeals court although she has taught law at Notre Dame and written weighty opinions on various legal topics.

She is a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative organisation from which Trump had drawn 90 per cent of federal judicial appointments. It is, therefore, ironic that Steven Calabrese co-founder of the society has called for the launch of a second impeachment effort over Trump’s lies about dangers of mail voting and his suggestion that the election be postponed due to coronavirus.

While Barrett will be the sixth Catholic on the nine member court, according to some reports, she is different from the others because she was groomed for this post by conservative Catholics seeking to promote their agenda at the national level. In 2006, she gave a graduation speech at Notre Dame law school in which declared, “Always keep in mind that your legal career is but a means to an end, and…that end is building the kingdom of God.”

Although Barrett argues her religious faith would not influence her decisions as a judge, she wrote in a Catholic journal that Catholic judges who abide by their church’s moral opposition to the death penalty should recuse themselves from enforcing the death penalty in specific cases. If applied by judges this call would violate the principle of the separation of church and state which has governed the US since its founding.

She supports Trump’s exclusionary policies toward immigrants, expanding gun rights, and cancelling the Affordable Care Act providing insurance for millions of low income citizens. As a judge she issued a ruling opening the way for male college students accused of campus sexual assault to sue their universities that they believe women rather than men. Abortion rights activists fear that Barrett, who opposes abortion, would vote to overturn or erode the key 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal nationwide.

Barrett is not simply a Catholic Christian who takes her faith seriously like Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, but she was born into a family which belongs to a secretive largely Catholic religious group called the People of Praise founded in 1971 in South Bend, Indiana, by men involved Christian  revivalism during the 1960s. Within three years the loosely organised group had become patriarchal. Barrett’s father was a member of the all-male board of directors. Barrett and her husband said to be members.

Dan DeCelles, a nephew of the group’s founder, said in 1996 that the purpose of the group is to inject faith into every aspect of life. “We believe that there’s nothing outside the Christian life.”

The group promotes prayer, communal living, sharing resources and traditional “Christian virtues.” Candidates must serve six years of probation before becoming full members. The group provides for male spiritual guidance by male ”heads” but, the Catholic church, it excludes women from leading roles although senior women — initially dubbed “handmaidens” — can mentor other women in female chores and responsibilities. Women are encouraged to advance outside the group through higher education and employment.

People of Praise, which has 1,700 members in 22 cities in the US and Canada, is closely connected to Notre Dame University, located outside South Bend, Indiana, where Barrett taught before her appointment.

The group has been criticised by defecting members who claim it is a male dominated “cult,” which practices gender discrimination, brainwashing and intimidation of people who want to leave.

Award-winning Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood has referenced a Christian evangelical cult like People of Praise for her scary 1985 book, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which describes the take-over of the US, renamed “Gilead,” by a right-wing theocratic and patriarchal society. During a 1989 interview with the New York Times Review of Books, Atwood spoke of efforts of right-wing Christians to unite church and state which the US, since its founding “has striven to keep apart, with great difficulty, because the foundation of this country was not separation of church and state. We’re often taught in schools that the Puritans came to America for religious freedom. Nonsense. They came to establish their own regime, where they could persecute people to their heart’s content just the way they themselves had been persecuted. If you think you have the word and the right way, that’s the only thing you can do.”

Compared to George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” the novel has been turned into a television series starring Elizabeth Moss and Joseph Fiennes, with the fourth cycle due to run next year. The series has won Golden Globe awards for best actress and best series.

 It remains to be seen whether Barrett, if elevated to the court, will be a handmaiden of her religious mentors or an honest interpreter of the Constitution.


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