Kelly Shackelford: Why Amy Coney Barrett, Trump's Supreme Court pick, will strengthen religious liberty

There is a certain quality to Judge Barrett that likely caught the attention of President Trump: her quiet conviction born of rigorous thought.

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President Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the seat on the Supreme Court left vacant after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg continues to fulfill his promise to the American people to appoint originalist judges like the late-Antonin Scalia.

Several of the people on the president’s recent list of potential SCOTUS nominees would have been terrific choices. Yet, there is a certain quality to Judge Barrett that likely caught the attention of President Trump and much of America: her quiet conviction born of rigorous thought.

The judge, about whom Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., complained in 2017 for having “dogma” living “loudly within,” responded to such outrageous bigotry with peaceful resolve. In her three years on the bench, unlike Sen. Feinstein, she has been unbiased and fair.

That should have been obvious at the time. Still, it was helpful that, when asked at an event with Hillsdale College about the role faith might play in the life of a judicial nominee, Judge Barrett explained, “We have a long tradition of religious tolerance in this country.”

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If Senators and others view people of faith skeptically, perhaps they should reconsider their premise. After all, she noted wisely, “People who have no faith, all people, have deeply held moral convictions.  Setting aside moral convictions is a challenge for all people not just religious people . . . so the public should be concerned of all nominees inserting personal bias/opinions into their opinions, not just people of faith.”

That should dispense with the expression of any further bigotry toward Judge Barrett’s religious beliefs and permit the swift examination of her professional credentials for Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Attempting to use religion to prohibit her from serving is a violation of Article VI of the Constitution prohibiting a “religious test” for office. It is also morally repugnant.

Her credentials are impressive. This mother of seven children (including two who are adopted from Haiti) and resident of South Bend, Indiana, is a constitutional expert in her own right. With degrees from Rhodes College and Notre Dame Law School, Judge Barrett began her career clerking for two conservative legends: Judge Laurence Silberman of the D.C. Circuit and the Justice Antonin Scalia. 

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After a stint in private practice, Judge Barrett became a noted academic, first at George Washington University Law School, but soon returning to her alma mater, Notre Dame, before her investiture in 2017 on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

As a judge, Barrett’s opinions have favorably strengthened the critical civil rights of American citizens, including religious liberty, while also serving as a critical check on a burgeoning administrative state.

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These are not positions at which she arrived suddenly.  Rather, they are born out of years of public scholarship and reflect the quiet conviction born of dutiful deliberation.  Indeed, Judge Barrett has become known for her thoughtful understanding of the doctrine of “stare decisis.” 

Perhaps what truly caught the attention of President Trump was that Judge Barrett not only worked for Justice Scalia, she clearly learned from him too.  Like Scalia, she brands herself an originalist.  Since originalism is often derided, and recently refashioned by some, it is helpful that she has supplied her own definition.

“I would describe myself as an originalist,” she noted before an audience in Washington, D.C.  “[A]nd my view of originalism: the meaning of the law is fixed as of the time it is ratified, and that the original meaning of that law controls if it is discernable.  If the law is clear, then the judge does not have the authority to depart from it.”

As a Justice, ACB would rule differently from RBG.  But, Justice Ginsburg fought for that very freedom. 

Like Justice Ginsburg, Barrett is brilliant, strong, and principled. Barrett’s confirmation would ratify the notion that women can choose scholarship, professionalism, and motherhood while also conserving the principles of the Constitution that have made this country great.  Her confirmation would be a powerful message to women and mothers across the country.  

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It appears that, in Judge Barrett, President Trump has nominated the ideological kin of Justice Scalia who possesses the determination of Justice Ginsburg while maintaining the quiet resolve of her own convictions. 

The U.S. Senate would do well to confirm her without any delay.