How Amy Coney Barrett became a product of the 'Christian conservative legal movement': journalist

How Amy Coney Barrett became a product of the 'Christian conservative legal movement': journalist

If the U.S. Supreme Court’s right-wing majority overturns Roe v. Wade in 2022, it will likely do so with the help of Justice Amy Coney Barrett — a hardcore social conservative who, philosophically, is a disciple of Justice Clarence Thomas and the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Journalist Margaret Talbot, in an article published by The New Yorker on February 7, stresses that Barrett’s presence on the High Court is very much the product of a movement to make sure that justices are as socially conservative as possible.

President Ronald Reagan appointed three U.S. Supreme Court justices during the 1980s: Scalia, Justice Anthony Kennedy and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor — and of the three, Scalia was the only real social conservative and the only one the Christian Right liked. President Donald Trump, in contrast, promised his far-right white evangelical supporters he would only appoint justices with a socially conservative agenda.

“In recent years, conservatives have been intent on installing judges who will not disappoint by becoming more centrist over time,” Talbot explains. “Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy sided with liberal justices in a few notable cases, including ones that allowed same-sex marriage and upheld Roe. David Souter, who had become a federal judge just months before President George H. W. Bush nominated him to the Court in 1990, moved leftward enough that ‘No More Souters’ became a conservative slogan.”

Barrett, as Talbot points out, is a favorite of the right-wing Federalist Society.

“For decades, leading members of the Federalist Society and other conservative legal associations have vetted potential appellate judges and justices and provided recommendations to Republican presidents,” Talbot notes. “The Federalist Society has traditionally showcased judges with records of high academic distinction, often at elite schools, service in Republican administrations, originalist loyalties, and a record of decisions on the side of deregulation and corporations. Barrett hadn’t served in an administration, and unlike the other current justices, she hadn’t attended an Ivy League law school.”

Talbot adds, “She went to Notre Dame, and returned there to teach. These divergences, though, ended up becoming points in her favor — especially at a time when religious activists were playing a more influential role in the conservative legal movement. Notre Dame, which is just outside South Bend, Indiana, is a Catholic institution in a deeply red state, and it’s one of the relatively few well-respected law schools where progressives do not abound. Barrett’s grounding in conservative Catholicism, and even her large family, began to seem like qualifications, too…. To some of Barrett’s champions, her life story also offered a retort to the kind of liberal feminism they abhorred.”

Of course, being right-wing doesn’t automatically make one a social conservative. The late Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, considered an arch-conservative in his day, was a scathing critic of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sr. and his Moral Majority; as Goldwater saw it, the Christian Right was terrible for the Republican Party and terrible for the conservative movement. And Reagan appointee Kennedy, during his decades on the High Court, had major libertarian leanings; he was fiscally conservative but sided with liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg over Scalia and Thomas when it came to abortion and gay rights.

When the Christian Right was promoting Barrett, they wanted to make sure they would not be getting a Kennedy-like libertarian.

“In public appearances before her nomination,” Talbot recalls, “Barrett was pleasant, non-ideological and disciplined to the point of blandness. Yet her background and her demeanor suggested to social conservatives that, if placed on the Court, she would deliver what they wanted, expanding gun rights and religious liberties, and dumping Roe.”

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