On the day that Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the Supreme Court was announced, I wrote that it would be wrong as well as politically unwise for Democrats to attack her on religious grounds. And they haven't.
Instead, in the days since, Democrats have talked about everything but Barrett's faith. They've argued against confirming her during an election. They've argued against confirming her during a pandemic. Again and again, they've warned that Barrett would, if confirmed, side with those who want to kill the Affordable Care Act and overturn Roe v. Wade. Not because of her religious beliefs, but because President Donald Trump has repeatedly told us that any nominee of his would vote to kill the ACA and overturn Roe v. Wade.
Still, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee remain outraged by the pitiless religious attacks on Barrett that aren't happening. And naturally, nobody is more indignant over these phantom incursions than Missouri's own perpetually and professionally piqued Sen. Josh Hawley.
Waving a stack of newspapers during his opening statement at Barrett's confirmation hearing, he pretended that these were filled with "one attack after another, in the liberal media, one hit piece after another" targeting the judge's Catholicism. I did see one piece that I found embarrassing in its astonishment at what orthodox Christians believe, but most of the recent mainstream coverage has been scrupulously fair.
"It's not just in the newspapers" that bigots are after her, Hawley insisted. "It's members of this committee."
It isn't, and they aren't. But Hawley would rather focus on the past mistakes of Democrats than on the quite current contradiction that The Washington Post has correctly labeled "The GOP's Josh Hawley Problem."
What's that? While other Republicans assure us they have no clue whether Barrett thinks Roe is settled law, Hawley says he knows just the opposite. In July, he told the Post that he'd vote against the confirmation of any nominee who hadn't made his or her disdain for Roe's legal underpinnings plain.
'EXPLICITLY ACKNOWLEDGED' OPINION ON ROE V. WADE
"I will vote only for those Supreme Court nominees who have explicitly acknowledged that Roe v. Wade is wrongly decided," Hawley said, angling as always to inherit Trump's base for his own presidential run. "By explicitly acknowledged, I mean on the record and before they were nominated."
Since then, he's said both that he was going to ask that question first and that he wouldn't be asking that question at all. Oh, and there's no inconsistency there; got it?
"I'm going to start," he told NBC in September, "by asking the question that I articulated before the Senate, which is does this nominee, has this nominee recognized that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided in 1973? If they can't beat the test, it doesn't get further than that. I'm gonna vote no."
After Barrett was nominated, he said he wouldn't be asking Barrett anything of the kind, because he didn't need to: "I hope that no senator on the other side will ask her to pledge her vote one way or another. And I certainly won't. I think the judge's record as to her understanding of judicial role and Roe and how Roe fits into that is pretty clear. It certainly fits my threshold." So he will be voting yes.
Hawley says that his litmus test doesn't indicate how a justice will rule anyway. But if it doesn't, then what's the point of the litmus test?
If Barrett really has explicitly acknowledged, on the record and before she was nominated, that Roe was wrongly decided, how does no one else know this? Are they not telling the truth about that? Or, if she didn't explicitly acknowledge this and he's supporting her anyway, then wasn't Hawley's promised test all talk?
Having put his Republican colleagues in a bind and handed Democrats a new favorite talking point, no wonder Hawley used his speaking time on Monday to accuse his Democratic colleagues of anti-Catholic bigotry. And likewise on Tuesday, he had more to say about anti-Catholic bigotry.
"Heck," said the Stanford and Yale Law grad, "65 million Americans are Catholics, and many millions more are Christians of other persuasions. Are they to be told they cannot serve in public office? I for one do not want to live in such an America."
We'll miss ya, Senator. But then, as my friend Michael Sean Winters wrote in the National Catholic Reporter this week, "If there is a litmus test for Catholics to join the court, someone must have given away the answers. If confirmed, Barrett will become the sixth Catholic on the court, and a seventh was raised Catholic. Out of nine. I guess we really should be terrified about the future of our religious liberty when we only have two-thirds of the highest court in the land."
JOE BIDEN DOESN'T FEEL LIKE A VICTIM
One Catholic whose faith really is constantly dissected and found lacking by his political opponents is that of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who strangely does not seem to see himself as a victim. "No, her faith should not be considered," he says. "No one's faith should be questioned."
Hawley was so desperate to find that Barrett was being targeted that he claimed that even mentioning the Griswold decision, as Democratic Delaware Sen. Chris Coons did, could only have been motivated by anti-Catholic animus. The 1965 ruling, which struck down a Connecticut law against birth control, recognized the right to privacy cited in subsequent abortion and gay marriage decisions, so maybe that was the relevance?
According to Hawley, no: "I just heard my colleague Sen. Coons make a reference to an old case - the Griswold case - which I can only assume is another hit at Judge Barrett's religious faith. ... This is the kind of thing I'm talking about and this is the sort of attacks that must stop."
They already have, where Barrett is concerned. But the same guy who says anti-bias training is anti-American won't stop casting Catholics and other Christians as the truly marginalized.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Melinda Henneberger is a columnist and member of The Kansas City Star's editorial board.
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