Amy Coney Barrett, Donald Trump’s candidate for the Supreme Court of the United States, attended my Catholic girls-only high school. We wore the same black and white checkered skirts and saddle brogues and walked the same halls, albeit almost a decade apart. As students at St. Mary’s Dominican High School, with an education rooted in the Catholic faith, we have been encouraged to be strong and independent women, future leaders of the world. I would be proud to see a fellow alum sit on our highest court if that person’s presence did not irrevocably threaten the lives of millions of Americans.
We didn’t have a mascot at Dominican, only an emblem: Veritas. In Latin, truth. But the truth is not monolithic – it is informed by our belief systems. How we define truth is important, especially for someone who sits on the Supreme Court.
Barrett’s anti-abortion views have taken their place in public positions. In 2015, she signed a letter to Catholic Bishops affirming the value of “life from conception” alongside prominent anti-choice figures such as Marjorie Dannenfeiser, president of anti-choice fundraising organization Susan B Anthony List. As a law professor at Notre Dame, Barrett was a member of the anti-abortion group University Faculty for Life, and in 2006 she signed a paid ad in a South Bend newspaper that called for “ending the legacy.” Roe v Wade Barbarian. In 2013, she gave two lectures to anti-abortion student groups at Notre-Dame. Barrett also criticized the Affordable Care Act guarantee that requires employers to provide birth control to their employees.
Like the late Justice Scalia, for whom she served as secretary, Barrett is a self-proclaimed textualist and originalist; it interprets the US constitution on the basis of its plain language and an attempt to understand the intent and state of mind of the original writers. Barrett also wrote that in his view it is appropriate and legitimate for judges to overturn precedent when they conflict with their personal interpretation of the constitution. Obedience to the exact original meaning of the constitution without current context is problematic. These laws were made by cisgender white men who enslaved other human beings and never intended to include large numbers of Americans – like women and people of color – in their quest to equal rights.
When a person’s truth, defined by how they see the world, impacts the lives and freedoms of generations of diverse Americans, they have tremendous power.
When I was in high school, I often wore a small gold pin in the shape of baby feet on the collar of my shirt. My Catholic education taught me that the lives of unborn children should be protected. I then attended the Catholic University of America, the only American university accredited by a pope. I was pious and sincere in my faith. But as the Catholic community on campus grew more conservative and charismatic, more honest in their beliefs on “the right track,” I started to have more questions. As I became exposed to growing worldviews, I began to understand the limits of my original faith and its proclamations.
Over time, I recognized that my belief in the “rightness” of my faith had made me think that someone else’s health and reproductive freedom needed to be legislated. Additionally, I saw how the patriarchal culture of the Church – even more rigid in charasmatic communities – harmed the lives of girls and women when we were discouraged from any agency around our own bodies, our sexuality. and our lifestyle choices. I have seen how, in the absence of talk about abortion, people who claim to be “pro-life” often ignore the lives of the most vulnerable Americans, including children born into poverty and in struggle.
With Barrett’s appointment, I worry about the lives and futures of my fellow Americans. I worried for the lives of the more than 20 million Americans who depend on the Affordable Care Act for health care when Barrett criticized the Supreme Court ruling upholding the power of Congress to enforce it. I was concerned for the lives of women and anyone with wombs when Barrett called abortion “always immoral” and said judges can overturn precedents according to their interpretation of the constitution.
I worry for the lives of LGBTQ + families when Barrett defended Supreme Court dissenters in the landmark Obergefell v Hodges marriage equality case. I worried about the lives of Black Americans, Native Americans, Asians, and Latin Americans when Barrett pointed out what she sees as flaws in Brown v The Board of Education: the historic affair which desegregated the schools. I worry for the lives of transgender youth and adults when Barrett has said at conferences that she is unsure whether transgender toilets are necessary given the text of Title IX and when she cheated on transgender women, qualifying them as “physiological males”.
Much has been written about Barrett and her husband’s involvement as members of a charismatic “allied” community called the People of Praise. As many Catholic people and organizations have noted, charismatic Catholic communities are very specific, diverging from mainstream Catholicism, and more ideologically and culturally conservative. People of Praise is a hierarchical organization where members make a lifetime commitment, or pact, and donate at least five percent of their income to the group. One of the fundamental principles is that husbands are the head of their wives and the authority of the family. Members are assigned a same-sex counselor, ‘chief’ for men and ‘female leader’ for single women (for decades ‘counselors’ were referred to as ‘maids’, but this has been changed due to the connotations. from Margaret Atwood’s novel and the subsequent television series The Handmaid’s Tale). According to the New York Times, Current and former members said these advisers “give direction on important decisions including who to date or marry, where to live, whether to take a job or buy a house, and how to raise children. In reports from the New York Times, Democracy Now and the National Catholic Reporter, former members describe the group as suffocating, bossy and abusive.
A worldview in which an authoritarian structure reigns is one that erases individual autonomy. A worldview in which women play subordinate roles, needing to consult others before making decisions, makes them agency-less. This worldview is extremely dangerous when scaled up to constitutional rulings on national policy, the domain of the Supreme Court.
I respect the role of religion and spirituality in our personal lives. And I don’t disagree with anyone of any faith sitting on the Supreme Court or even describing themselves as pious. However, I have a problem when there is evidence, in word and deed, that their faith, coupled with their legal theory, might compel them to make decisions that would negatively impact life, free will, and the well-being of generations of Americans.
Two years ago my high school awarded Amy Coney Barrett with the Alumna of the Year award. I read that she was a respected teacher and a polite person. I have no doubt about it. What I doubt is his ability to separate the “correctness” of his faith from decisions about the future of healthcare, reproductive freedom, and civil rights for millions of Americans. What I fear is that his leadership on the Supreme Court is eroding rather than protecting freedom and justice for all.