According to the latest reports, Donald Trump has settled on a shortlist of five potential Supreme Court Justice nominees, which includes two women.
The leading contender in the female division is Amy Coney Barrett. And as Ramesh Ponnuru has written, Trump should pick her.
But I’ll go one step further: I think Trump will pick her, and that things will heat up fast when he does.
In case you’re unfamiliar, Judge Barrett is a 46-year-old (she could be on the court for decades!) telegenic woman (good optics) who is the mother of seven children—two of whom she adopted (family values).
Before becoming a Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals and a law professor, she earned a law degree from the Notre Dame Law School (highly qualified) and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (is there a better choice for a conservative?).
For conservatives, this would be exhilarating, but Barrett’s obvious appeal is a double-edged sword. The very things that make her such a compelling pick (her judicial philosophy and qualifications, as well as the chance to dare Democrats to try to take down a highly qualified female nominee) also make her a threat to a Democratic Party that is increasingly wedded to identity politics.
Now, it’s possible that Democrats will decide this isn’t a fight worth having—that focusing on winning the mid-terms is what matters. As Ponnuru notes, three Democrats, Joe Donnelly, Tim Kaine, and Joe Manchin, have previously voted to confirm Barrett. But the stakes are higher now. And we’re talking about a Democratic Party with prominent leaders who have recently said they want to abolish ICE; I can’t imagine them sitting back and watching a young conservative women get a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court and not lifting a finger to stop it.
Consider the fate of conservative D.C. court nominee Miguel Estrada, whose Hispanic heritage seemed to play a role in Democrats’ successful efforts to block his nomination. One could imagine that Democrats will not be excited to see an attractive young (ostensibly) conservative woman on the high court.
They will try to “otherize” (who has seven children these days?!) and “Palinize” her—with the difference being that Barrett is much more intellectually and emotionally equipped to handle a few days of grilling than Palin was to handle a few months of it.
Barrett’s involvement in the “People of Praise,” a 3,000 member-strong charismatic Catholic movement, which focused on the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit, will surely be used to make her look like some weird extremist. Ed Whelan previously pushed back on some of what many conservatives saw as “anti-Catholic bigotry” here and here—but he will have his work cut out for him if she’s the nominee.
The People of Praise’s past use of the term “handmaid” for female members is sure to come up, with the context being The Handmaid’s Tale. This choice of words will seem very odd for a lot of people who are familiar with the show or with Margaret Atwood’s novel, but not with Mary’s words in the Bible: “I am the handmaiden (servant) of the Lord; let it be to me according to your Word.”
Regardless, the group has been embraced by Pope Francis, who welcomed them to Rome to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the charismatic renewal in the Catholic Church, and who appointed Peter Smith, a People of Praise member, to be Auxiliary Bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon.
We saw the foreshadowing of this play just last year when Sen. Dianne Feinstein said, during a hearing, to Barrett: “You have a long history of believing that your religious beliefs should prevail,” adding: “When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you.”
Of course, the backdrop for all of this is based on the premise that Roe v. Wade is about to be overturned—a notion that has permeated the air since it was announced that Justice Kennedy would retire.
“It’s never appropriate for a judge to impose that judge’s personal convictions, whether they arise from faith or anywhere else, on the law,” Barrett responded.
Barrett would be a solid pick from a philosophical standpoint and from a political standpoint—which, ironically, means she is more likely to evoke intense pushback from liberals.
Now, to some Republican presidents, the potential for controversy would be enough to scare them away. But Donald Trump likes this kind of clash—and it’s one fight that I believe he can win in the court of public opinion. That’s why I think Barrett has a good chance of being nominated and confirmed.
For committed conservatives who held their nose and voted for Trump, there is one redeeming quality that comes to light in a situation such as this...
Editor’s Note: Updated on July 5 to correct the number of her adopted children to two. We regret the error.