Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s first Capitol Hill meetings were friendly encounters with Republican senators, but running the Supreme Court nomination gauntlet is bound to get tougher: Conservative women and minorities have aroused some of the most furious Democratic opposition.
“We want to pray for her family, as we know these will be interesting, tough weeks,” said Mercedes Schlapp, a senior adviser to President Trump’s reelection campaign, in a Catholics for Trump conference call. “I’ve gotta tell you, I’m really, really, really concerned,” added Trump deputy campaign manager Justin Clark.
Barrett’s gender and religion have already figured in some negative coverage of her nomination. An Associated Press report described the 48-year-old as having “close ties to a charismatic Christian religious group that holds men are divinely ordained as the ‘head’ of the family and faith,” quoting ex-members as saying it promotes the subjugation of women. Resistance Twitter has been more pointed in its characterization of Barrett’s beliefs.
Emily Peck wrote in the Huffington Post that Barrett’s individual success as a working mother does not make her a champion of women’s rights. “There is nothing in Barrett’s history that would indicate that she’s spent any time empowering women,” Peck argued. “Barrett’s mentor was Antonin Scalia, a Supreme Court justice who consistently ruled against gender equality. As an academic, Barrett is not known for writing or studying feminist issues. She is known for being pro-life.”
Ibram X. Kendi, author of the much-consulted New York Times bestseller How To Be An Antiracist, tweeted that Barrett’s black children were not evidence against racism. “Some White colonizers ‘adopted’ Black children,” he wrote. “They ‘civilized’ these ‘savage’ children in the ‘superior’ ways of White people, while using them as props in their lifelong pictures of denial, while cutting the biological parents of these children out of the picture of humanity.” Kendi later clarified he was making a general point rather than criticizing Barrett, who has two adopted children from Haiti, specifically.
Supporters calling Barrett “Notorious ACB” have been criticized for “appropriating” the nickname of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the liberal icon whose death created the vacancy Trump has nominated Barrett to fill. Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, tweeted that Barrett’s alleged views on Obamacare and Roe v. Wade made her unsuitable for “Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court.”
This line of criticism may be more appealing to outside liberal groups than Democratic senators in the midst of a hard-fought election. “I think the Democrats are going to argue process over personality because ACB is so attractive as a nominee,” said Republican strategist John Feehery. “But because she is a conservative woman, the progressive movement will attack her with special vehemence because she is a threat to their whole narrative of women being victimized by the patriarchy.”
“ACB is many things,” Feehery added. “A victim is not among them.”
It would not be the first time a Republican attempt to maintain the diversity of the Supreme Court while nominating a conservative to a seat held by a liberal has generated a strong reaction from the Left. Justice Clarence Thomas was bitterly opposed by civil rights groups when President George H.W. Bush chose him to succeed Thurgood Marshall. Thomas described his confirmation hearings as a “high-tech lynching.” The Senate Judiciary Committee, then chaired by Joe Biden, deadlocked on Thomas’s nomination, and he was confirmed by a narrow 52-48 vote despite Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment, which he categorically denied.
“This time the president will nominate a right-wing extremist who happens to have a Hispanic surname rather than a black face,” Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman wrote in a liberal magazine when George W. Bush was elected president. “And if the Democrats have the courage to block this gambit, he will follow up with another ‘stealth candidate’ and count on the Senate to confirm her, as it did [Anthony] Kennedy.”
Two of the most high-profile appellate court nominees filibustered by Democrats under George W. Bush were Janice Rogers Brown, a black woman, and Miguel Estrada, a Hispanic man. An aide to Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, warned that Estrada was “especially dangerous because he has a minimal paper trail, he is Latino, and the White House seems to be grooming him for a Supreme Court appointment.”
Durbin has more recently had to apologize for a “token” remark about Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican who is black. “No GOP event is complete without a few token minorities to absolve the party of its overt race-baiting and appeals to white grievance,” opined Kai Holloway in the Daily Beast, singling out Republican Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who is also black.
The confirmation hearings of Justice Brett Kavanaugh were especially contentious, even though he is neither a woman nor a minority. “At least they probably won’t accuse Amy Coney Barrett of rape,” said a conservative veteran of that nomination fight. “But I’d only say probably.”