When President Trump announced that Judge Amy Coney Barrett was his nominee to fill the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy left by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the religious bigotry of the far left exposed its ugly face. Left-wing pundits, politicians and activists immediately questioned her ability to be an impartial justice because of her faith.
Of course, we’ve heard this tune before. It’s the same attack they used when Mr. Trump nominated her to the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017.
During her 2017 confirmation hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, infamously said about the judge’s Catholic faith, “The dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern.”
Fast forward to this September. When asked if questioning Judge Barrett’s faith was off limits in Senate confirmation hearings for her appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, Sen. Mazie Hirono, Hawaii Democrat, said no, it wasn’t.
New York Times opinion writer Elizabeth Bruenig followed that up with a claim that “Judge Barrett’s nomination has merely renewed attention to a fundamental conflict, centuries underway, between Catholicism and the American ethos.”
Funny, I’ve been in government and public policy for almost 40 years, and the claim of a centuries-old conflict that America has with its Catholics is news to me. It’s also very insulting, and I’m not even Catholic.
While Judge Barrett’s religion certainly informs her worldview and shapes her character, as a judge, she takes an oath that, while on the job, her fidelity must be first and foremost to the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law.
The fact is, every conservative justice on the court would agree with that point. As an originalist and textualist, she believes that the words in our Constitution and in our laws must be interpreted according to how those words were understood at the time they were written, not reinterpreted according to her worldview.
Ironically, her critics hold the exact opposite view when it comes to leftist judges. They want judges to reject the written law and inject their own agendas to ensure that cases have the social and political outcomes they favor. Many on the left are more than happy with judges who circumvent the democratic process and impose their views in ways that advance the leftist agenda.
However, Judge Barrett rightly rejects that kind of behavior as contradictory to our system of constitutionally limited government. She has said that if a judge rewrites a law according to his or her personal views, then “it ceases to be the law that has democratic legitimacy.”
What if there were a case before her where her religious faith and her judicial responsibility conflicted and she felt she had to adhere to the higher calling of her faith? Judge Barrett addressed that issue during her 2017 confirmation: “I would recuse. I would never impose my own personal convictions upon the law.” She said it is “never appropriate for a judge to impose that judge’s personal convictions, whether they derive from faith or anywhere else, on the law.”
Unconstitutional religious tests for office are a direct attack on our cherished tradition of religious freedom. They are also a form of economic discrimination – denying people employment in government because of their religious affiliation. In Judge Barrett’s case, the attempt to deny confirmation based on her religious views seems to be the backup plan when senators can’t find anything substantially objectionable about her credentials.
This country’s protections for religious freedom prevent the kind of rampant religious bigotry we see in other nations — the social ostracizing of the religious, the denial of employment or education and even the criminalization of religious practice.
Judge Barrett and the conservative justices she will join on the court believe in the objective application of the law. You might not be able to tell that by the hysteria you hear from the left. But the fact is, originalist and textualist judges who objectively and fairly apply the law across the board are precisely the justices we need more of on the Supreme Court.
If liberal justices actually applied that same discipline, we wouldn’t see the near-constant partisan split in decisions coming out of the court that we do today. And if more of our senators cared about justices deciding cases based on the Constitution and the law rather than whether they reached the outcomes they preferred, we would see a lot less rancor and invective — and perhaps even more bipartisanship — when a conservative nominee is named.
Religious bigotry has no place in the confirmation process, nor anywhere in government or public life. In fact, the Constitution explicitly states that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
But then again, we’ve always known that those on the far left have never been big fans of the Constitution.
• Kay C. James is the president of The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org)