Last week I wrote of the venomous nature of the politics surrounding the appointment of justices to the United States Supreme Court. The Court’s decisions can have a major impact on society. They’re not easily reversed or modified. The justices who make them may serve for life and cannot easily be removed from office or otherwise held accountable for their actions. When an institution is so powerful, the competition to control it inevitably becomes fierce. If we can diminish its power and make its decisions more subject to review by We the People and our democratically elected decision makers, we may be able to diminish the poison injected into the political system by those who seek to control the Supreme Court, and thereby make our system more civilized and democratic.
President Trump has nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court. The fight over her confirmation will almost certainly be intense, as well it should be. All Senators, regardless of party, have both the right and the obligation to question her vigorously and thoroughly, and to confirm or reject her appointment for whatever reasons they choose. But one innovation to the hearings should be added—any accusation of criminal wrongdoing against Barrett should require proof for it to be considered, with civil and criminal penalties brought against demonstrable liars. A Supreme Court nominee should enjoy at the very least the civil liberties accorded an accused rapist or murderer.
But two lines of attack, one concerning her faith, and one concerning her children, have begun to be discussed in the media. The degree to which either strategy will be employed is not yet known. But either, or both, strategies could well add more poison to the witches’ cauldron of our judicial politics.
When Trump appointed Barrett to her current position on one of America’s Courts of Appeals, several Democratic Senators tried to make an issue of her Roman Catholicism. It’s okay, apparently, to be a Roman Catholic, and even, presumably, a practicing Catholic. But a believing Catholic? That’s another matter. Barrett is one of several Catholics appointed to federal judgeships over the objections of Democrats who’ve claimed that membership in Catholic-affiliated organizations such as People of Praise and the Knights of Columbus, may disqualify them for service as judges. After all, the Catholic Church in general, and these organizations in particular, officially oppose abortion.
Of course, this doesn’t mean the same anti-Catholic gambit will be tried again. Senate Democrats may conclude that having failed to use religion once, they ought not to try it again, especially in an election year in which President Trump could well charge them with anti-Catholic bigotry.
But several major news media outlets are trying to show that People of Praise is somehow the theological inspiration for the dystopian society Margaret Atwood described in her novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, wherein “Handmaids” are women who have no rights and are forced to breed. People of Praise used to call its women members “Handmaids,” too; hence the effort to make People of Praise the inspiration for the model of a society based on male supremacy and female oppression. Of course, no Handmaid, as defined by Atwood, could possibly become a law professor, a federal judge, or a candidate for the Supreme Court. How long it takes for the news media to figure that one out remains to be seen.
Also remaining to be seen is the extent to which Barrett’s children become an issue. The media are reporting that adoption activists are questioning the circumstances under which Barrett was able to adopt 2 Haitian children, refugees from an earthquake that devastated that country already devastated by extreme poverty and a political elite with no interest in the welfare of the people they oppress for their own political gain. Was Barrett somehow working with a human trafficking ring?
No prominent Democrat has been linked to either the Handmaid Gambit or the Adoption gambit. One would like to see strong, harsh bipartisan blowback at both these gambits and those who are developing them.
Even more beneficial, once Barrett’s nomination is disposed of, would be the systematic examination of a variety of proposals being offered by politicians and journalists for reforming the Supreme Court to reduce the intensity of Supreme Court confirmation battles. Some I’ve mentioned in previous columns. All deserve some degree of analysis, perhaps in this column eventually and definitely throughout the political system.
Two proposals include changing the size of the Supreme Court (“Court packing’), and limiting the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction over which cases it may hear on appeal from lower courts. Each proposal has pros and cons which deserve extensive analysis. But the Constitution currently gives the Congress to enact each one.
Two other proposals would require constitutional amendments: Term limits for Supreme Court justices, and direct action to overturn specific policies imposed by Supreme Court decisions. Given the cumbersome methods for formally amending the Constitution, summarized last week, many might be discouraged from making the attempts to enact these changes, even if they thought them otherwise worthwhile.
Indeed, any change in the status quo will be difficult to make. Its precise consequences may well be unpredictable. But if these changes can make the Supreme Court appointment process for democratic and rational, and less bitter, the hoped-for results may be worth the effort.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.