The disqualifying hubris of Amy Coney Barrett

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Hubris was a common theme in ancient Greek theater. Excessive pride and arrogance were punished by the gods with a spectacular fall from grace and power. And hubris seems to be a requirement for recent nominees to the Supreme Court. However, the hubris being shown by Judge Amy Coney Barrett in her ill-timed nomination is so egregious that she must withdraw her name from consideration. And if she does not, then that is one more mark to indicate that her self-pride exceeds her sense of decency, and that is a disqualifying character flaw.

First you must ask why any person who has built her reputation on religious principle, as has Barrett, would have any quarter with Donald Trump, the most reprehensible person ever to hold this high political office. Then there are the circumstances of accepting a lifetime appointment during the dying gasps of his failing administration, and just hours after the death of one of the most respected justices in the history of the court. Add the potential for conflict-of-interest intervention in the upcoming election’s outcome. This is a dangerous appointment for the fate of the nation.

Four years ago, Republican leaders in the Senate put forward a high-horse principle, now clearly phony, that blocked Merrick Garland, one of the leading centrist jurists of the age, from a Supreme Court appointment. And Judge Barrett is clearly just fine with that. That is itself disqualifying. Add to this her “coming out party” at the White House that has turned into a coronavirus “super-spreader” event. This no-mask party has likely sickened numerous people, including the President himself, members of Congress, and a still-unknown number of staffers and journalists covering the event. This bizarre spectacle was science denial writ large in the pursuit of raw political power. To participate in this craziness is itself disqualifying.


Amy Coney Barrett announcement celebration at the White House on September 26, with known Covid-19 carriers/recipients circled. (CNN)

And finally, Judge Barrett must certainly know that, like earlier Trump nominees, her seat will be forever tainted by the circumstances of her election. Justice Neil Gorsuch will be forever “asterisked,” especially in the new evidence that the “McConnell Principle” that put him on the bench in place of Judge Garland was a fraud. And Justice Brett Kavanaugh will always be known as the justice who so adamantly “likes beer” that it caused abhorrent behavior in his youth. He expressed no regret for his behavior, and has still-unresolved issues as to the source of his sudden financial security. This is the club she is joining.

History can be a cruel judge, especially to judges who illegitimately wear the robes of power.

Sharks in the water!

The lawyers who have propped Donald Trump up as he has torn down numerous presidential norms are an especially hubristic and sleazy lot. Members of the bar already have a stereotype problem and Attorney General William Barr has decided to play “Head Shark” in order to reinforce that stereotype. His fellow attorneys in his home state even want him disbarred for his documented lying to Congress.

One year ago I wrote about how Attorney General Barr, in a speech not-coincidentally at Barrett’s long-time school of Notre Dame University, laid out what I called the forced merging of Barr’s “Binary God” into the jurisprudence of the United States. There is but one God, according to Barr, but it is likely not the one you (or even the head of his own church) profess. However, the “Divine Command” of his God must be used as the unbendable weight and ethic of law. And yet this “Divine Command” law somehow has plenty of room in it for the rampant corruption and intentionally cruel forces of the Trump administration.

The writings and public religious professions of Amy Comey Barrett clearly put her in the “Binary God” camp. Her defenders have said that there is no religious test for the Supreme Court. But that does not mean that you can hide your intentions for remaking American civil rights under the cloak of your religious garments if you want a seat on that court.

It is not because she is a Catholic that Barrett’s qualifications are being questioned. Indeed, both Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden are active, practicing Catholics. I have done graduate study at a respected Catholic university and I have written in the past about my respect for the many Catholic “religious” that I met there. It is instead because Barrett has expressed a desire to take away healthcare and reproductive rights from Americans, and she is using her religion to justify that agenda. It is Barrett herself who makes this important, not her questioners.

The Machiavellian logic of Trump apologists

One defense used by defenders of Barrett and other Trump appointees, especially professed conservative Christians, is that they are the truly good people who work with a flawed President in order to achieve “greater ends” for this country. This is, of course, the logic behind Niccolò Machiavelli’s classic 16th century book The Prince, with its famous phrase “The end justifies the means.” I have outlined in the past how this is not just bad thinking from the point of view of classical ethics, but it also fails at numerous other basic Christian principles.

Amy Coney Barrett’s past writings openly express hostility to healthcare for the poor and reproductive choice for women. Indeed, this is why the Federalist Society chose her, and why Mitch McConnell will go to such lengths to get her confirmed in the middle of a pandemic that depletes his Senatorial ranks daily. Here Barrett mounts her own high horse in the style of Chief Justice John Roberts, who famously said that “My job is to call balls and strikes.” As I noted during Trump’s impeachment trial, Roberts has spent a lifetime “calling balls and strikes” in a game between the Boston Red Sox and your local Little League team. The fight to void the Affordable Care Act on technicalities is the height of elitist privilege.

I wrote some time ago about a group of politically-active nuns defying their own archbishop. Working in the trenches of both rich and poor parishes, they came to understand that rich women like Judge Barrett are usually not forced to make the hard moral decisions that come with trying to feed a family on minimum wage while sick or pregnant. The rich parishes, they pointed out to me, have smaller families, and you do not need to be a mathematician to understand the real reasons why. These women have options that the women in the poor parishes do not have. They get to practice birth control and obtain abortions for their daughters in private, without condemnation from not-always-celibate priests or cultist scolds.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg understood the real rules of the ball game being played here. So does Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Amy Coney Barrett got where she is today in large part because of the trailblazing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And yet she is vocal about wanting to trash Ginsburg’s legacy. You cannot have “a seat at the table” if your goal is to throw others off that table. There should be no place on the bench for her.

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