The Dogma of Sens. Feinstein and Franken
On May 8, 2017, President Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to a seat on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. By any reasonable measure, Barrett is beyond qualified. After graduating with highest honors from Notre Dame Law School, she clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia at the Supreme Court. And a few years later, she returned to Notre Dame. There, she “teaches and researches in the areas of federal courts, constitutional law, and statutory interpretation.” She is exactly the kind of person you want serving on the Court of Appeals, if we lived in more reasonable times. As her Notre Dame affiliation suggests, Barrett is a Catholic, which wouldn’t be an issue if she were the kind of Catholic whose faith is so private, as the old joke goes, that she wouldn’t impose it on herself. But she’s the kind of Catholic who lives as if her faith is actually true. At her confirmation hearings, Senator Diane Feinstein, channeling Darth Vader in Star Wars, told Barrett that “When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you.” An example of what Feinstein considers “loudly living dogma” is Barrett’s address to the Law School’s 2006 graduating class. Barrett said that “Your legal career is but a means to an end, and . . . that end is building the kingdom of God. . . . [I]f you can keep in mind that your fundamental purpose in life is not to be a lawyer, but to know, love, and serve God, you truly will be a different kind of lawyer.” Feinstein and other Democratic senators also pointed to a 1998 article on the death penalty, which the Catholic Church opposes in all but a few, highly improbable, instances. Barrett wrote that “Judges cannot—nor should they try to—align our legal system with the Church’s moral teaching whenever the two diverge. They should, however, conform their own behavior to the Church’s standard. Perhaps their good example will have some effect.” What Barrett had in mind was recusal, which is done to insure impartiality. But to hear Feinstein and others discuss it, you would have thought that Barrett was talking about an auto-da-fé, the burning of heretics. But by far the most ridiculous moment came when senator Al Franken compared Barrett’s speaking before the Alliance Defending Freedom to giving a speech to Pol Pot, the genocidal Cambodian dictator. I am not making this up. Coming on the heels of Bernie Sanders’ mistreatment of Russell Vought, a Wheaton College grad, over his belief that Jesus is the only way to the Father, it’s clear that some Democrats seem intent on imposing a de facto religious test for government office, notwithstanding the Constitution’s explicit prohibition of such a test. Of course, they deny they’re doing any such thing. Instead, in the case of Barrett, they’re recycling one of the oldest prejudices in American life: “The notion that Catholics are so beholden to Rome as to be incapable of rendering independent judgment in public office.” The modern version, as the late Richard John Neuhaus used to say, goes “the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic,” someone who doesn’t live as if his faith were actually true. As Russell Vought learned, the same is also true for Evangelicals. For some people, even the gentlest, most winsome faith is simply beyond the pale.