Acton Institute Powerblog

Donald Trump nominates Amy Coney Barrett to Supreme Court

President Donald Trump has nominated Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court. The 48-year-old will fill the seat left vacant by the death of 87-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on September 18.

President Trump called Barrett “a woman of unparalleled achievement, towering intellect, sterling credentials and unyielding loyalty to the Constitution,” as he introduced hthe nominee in a ceremony in the White House’s Rose Garden at 5 p.m. Eastern on Saturday.

He reminded the nation of the impact a new justice, his third appointment, would have on jurisprudence. “Rulings that the Supreme Court will issue in the coming years will decide the survival of our Second Amendment, our religious liberty, our public safety, and so much more. To maintain security and liberty and prosperity, we must preserve our priceless heritage of a nation of laws,” he said.

“I love the United States and the United States Constitution,” Barrett said in her speech Saturday, adding she felt “humbled” by her nomination.

In a moment of great consequence, Barrett recognized former originalist Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom she clerked in 1998-1999, as “my mentor.”

“His judicial philosophy is mine, too,” Barrett said. “A judge must apply the law as written. Judges are not policymakers, and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they may hold.”

Members of Scalia’s family, as well as every member of Barrett’s own multiracial family, attended the announcement.

Barrett has earned the trust of conservative legal scholars with her outspoken support for interpreting the Constitution according to the original intent of the Founders. “Judge Barrett’s record demonstrates her commitment to the Constitution’s text and its purpose,” said Kelly Shackelford, president of the First Liberty Institute. “Judge Barrett understands that government exists to protect the God-given rights of the people and the Constitution exists to prevent government from infringing on those rights.” Dr. Grazie Christie of The Catholic Association agreed that Barrett is “brilliant, accomplished, and committed to interpreting the text of the Constitution as written.”

Barrett, who is five years Neil Gorsuch’s junior, would be the youngest justice on the court.

Barrett has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit since 2017, when she faced bruising questions about her religious faith during contentious Senate confirmation hearings.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., seemed to imply that being a faithful Roman Catholic disqualified Barrett from serving on the court. “When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern,” she said. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., also probed Barrett about her view of what it means to be an “orthodox Catholic.” Legal scholars argued that the harsh criticism of Barrett’s Catholic faith came close to violating the U.S. Constitution, which bars officials from requiring a “religious test” of appointees (Article VI, Clause 3).

Ultimately, the Senate confirmed Barrett by a vote of 55-43 on October 31, 2017.

If confirmed, Barrett could tip the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence back to a strict constructionist reading of the Constitution absent since at least the Warren Court of the 1950s. Some are already bracing for another round of ugly personal attacks and inappropriate questions about the nominee’s traditional faith. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins condemned “the startling level of anti-Christian bias already on display against Barrett.” The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights noted that numerous commentators who are not at all friendly to Barrett or President Trump, have advised Senate Democrats against savaging Barrett over her religion:

S.E. Cupp advises Democrats that a repeat of the bigoted attacks on Barrett will only get Trump reelected. Bonnie Kristian, writing for Yahoo News, says that an attack on Barrett’s faith is the “wrong way” to go. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin flatly said, “It’s awful to bring in religion. It truly is.” Professor Jonathan Turley, who says he is “fervently secular” in his views, opined that Democrats should leave Barrett’s religious beliefs alone. … Brandeis University professor Eileen McNamara said it best: “Let’s keep the focus during this nomination and confirmation fight – whenever it comes – on the Constitution, not on the Baltimore Catechism.”

President Trump said that Barrett’s confirmation process should be “straight-forward and extremely prompt,” as well as devoid of “personal or partisan attacks.” The Senate Judiciary Committee could begin confirmation hearings the week of October 10, paving the way for a Senate confirmation vote by October 26, according to Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind.

Thus far, the substantive opposition to Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court has focused on her criticism of Chief Justice John Roberts’ ruling on the Affordable Care Act, which recast the ACA’s individual mandate as a tax in order to maintain its constitutionality.

Sen. Durbin renewed his opposition to Barrett after her selection for the U.S. Supreme Court became public knowledge, saying, “It is nothing short of outrageous that they want to approve her in fewer than 30 days.” Since 1987, the average Supreme Court nominee has received a confirmation vote 30 calendar days after the first day of his or her Senate confirmation hearings. Justices Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Chief Justice John Roberts were confirmed within 15, 18, and 17 days of their confirmation hearings’ commencement, respectively.

“President Trump has chosen an absolute all-star in Judge Amy Coney Barrett to serve as our nation’s newest Supreme Court justice,” said Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser. “Amy Coney Barrett is a brilliant jurist in the mold of the late Justice Scalia.”

Both President Trump and Barrett took the opportunity to laud the late Justice Ginsburg, whom Barrett said “not only broke glass ceilings, she smashed them.” Barrett, a mother of seven, would break barriers of her own, becoming the first woman on the Supreme Court to have school-age children.

Barrett promised to be “mindful of who came before me,” even as she potentially ushers in a new era of reverence for the Constitution and replaces the Supreme Court’s most reliable judicial activist.

“There is no one better,” President Trump told Barrett. ”You are going to be really fantastic.”

(Photo credit: AP Photo / Alex Brandon.)

Rev. Ben Johnson

Rev. Ben Johnson is Executive Editor of the Acton Institute's flagship journal Religion & Liberty and edits its transatlantic website.