With Judge Amy Coney Barrett looking like a “top contender” to replace Justice Ginsburg, it may be worth revisiting what would likely be the main controversy with a Barrett nomination: whether her Catholic religion would interfere with her judging.
It is fashionable for those on the right who have not looked into the issue to dismiss this as “bigotry” but there is more to it than that. Over two years ago I wrote a post titled Would a Justice Amy Barrett Recuse Herself in Abortion Cases? Plenty of judges and politicians (including Joe Biden) are Catholic, including Justice Scalia, for whom Judge Barrett was a clerk. But not every judge has written something like this:
[W]e believe that Catholic judges (if they are faithful to the teachings of their church) are morally precluded from enforcing the death penalty. This means that they can neither themselves sentence criminals to death nor enforce jury recommendations of death. Whether they may affirm lower court orders of either kind is a question we have the most difficulty in resolving.
But Barrett has. In my 2018 post, I noted that the issue of abortion is also fraught with baggage for the sincere Catholic, and that a judge who had expressed misgivings about ruling on death penalty cases as an appellate judge might have similar misgivings about abortion cases. I concluded: “It would be ironic indeed if conservatives supported Barrett because they thought her Catholic faith would make her a certain vote to overturn Roe v. Wade — only to see her recuse herself from any such case because of that same faith.”
Fortunately, we now have two more years of Barrett’s track record as a judge to consult, and I updated the post yesterday after a Twitter interchange with Ed Whelan in which he pointed out that Judge Barrett joined a panel decision in July vacating an injunction against an execution. Here is that update, which I thought should be highlighted in a new post given its relevance to current events:
UPDATE 9-20-20: Ed Whelan points me to the fact that Barrett has since ruled on a death penalty case, which certainly lessens the concerns raised in this post:
Seventh Circuit panel included Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Major ground of attack on her nomination was confused claim that she would let her religious beliefs, including her opposition to the death penalty, warp her exercise of her judicial duties. Nope. https://t.co/kyH4HbPUHx
— Ed Whelan (@EdWhelanEPPC) July 12, 2020
I’m no longer concerned about Barrett recusing herself from death cases or abortion cases.
A track record is a nice thing to have. Trump was correct to forego nominating Judge Barrett before she built one. Two years is not a particularly long track record, but it’s better than virtually nothing. Keep this one in your back pocket if she should become the nominee.
P.S. Ed Whelan was kind enough to inquire on my behalf what Justice Scalia’s favorite opera was, so I could listen to it, as RBG’s death and their friendship was making me nostalgic. He told me he had learned indirectly from Mrs. Scalia that it was Cavalleria Rusticana by Mascagni — also an RBG favorite. Press play and remember a day when people who disagreed could get along: