By Colleen O'Connor
Catholics in battleground states could “well decide the outcome” of this Presidential election.
As the Associated Press wrote recently, “For decades, Roman Catholic voters have been a pivotal swing vote in U.S. presidential elections, with a majority backing the winner — whether Republican or Democrat — nearly every time,”
With this in mind, and before judging all Catholics in light of the new Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, remember there are many, many varieties of Catholicism practiced by the 70 million Catholics in the United States.
It’s especially important to remember this when a female, ultra conservative, Catholic nominee to a fractious Supreme Court seems destined to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an iconic, liberal Jew.
Some Catholics, born and educated into their faith, are still practicing — attending mass, taking communion, keeping the commandments, and observing the holy days. Former Vice President Joe Biden and House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi typify such Catholics.
Others have lapsed, but keep their faith minus some dogma.
If Barrett is confirmed, she will be the sixth Catholic on the highest court. Justice Sonia Sotomayor is the only current Catholic justice appointed by a Democrat. The others — John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh and Barrett, if confirmed — were nominated by Republicans.
But, Barrett’s Catholicism is not just non-traditional, it is actually a fringe version—one coming under increased scrutiny before her confirmation hearings begin.
The People of Praise is a small, religious group (less than 1,700 members) of Catholics and Protestants whose practices, according to the New York Times, “draw on the ecstatic traditions of charismatic Christianity, including speaking in tongues. The group’s close-knit style arose out of the 1960s when hippie ideals — that living in deep community with others was superior to being alone — entered Catholic life.”
Yet, it is not Barrett’s charismatic Catholic religion that presents a problem, it is her judicial opinions and conflicts of interest, combined with her meager three year’s of experience on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
So, before condemning all Catholics, judge the nominee first and foremost by her credentials, beliefs, life practices and history of rulings and writings. And therein lies the problem.
Remember, the Constitution is what the Supreme Court says it is — a simple, but terrifying concept.
All justices are human, filled with human weaknesses, prejudices and strengths, and hand down decisions based on their unique life experiences. Barrett would be no exception.
Her first problem is President Trump’s public declaration that he needs the new justice to decide the 2020 election — which he already claims is “rigged.”
She, as well as Roberts and Kavanaugh, played various roles in the Bush v. Gore court decision that decided the contested 2000 race.
Thus far, Barrett has refused to recuse herself on that matter.
Barrett also voted at least twice on abortion issues as an appellate judge — both times joining dissenting opinions versus abortion rights — but as with Kavanaugh considers Roe v. Wade “settled case law.”
That is vague enough to be almost meaningless.
Will Barrett’s version of Catholicism dictate her judicial decisions because she believes in the “original” or “textualist” interpretation of the Constitution?
Some of the earliest interpretations of the Constitution have not stood the test of time.
Originally, the Constitution stated that slavery is “property,” and that slaves are to be counted as three-fifths of a person for purposes of both taxation and representation. That took a Civil War to change and another century to correct. Yet voter suppression and racism continue to exist.
Also, that Constitution did not allow women to vote, own property in their own name, or hold public office. And the 14th Amendment still does not (according to the Supreme Court) include women as “persons.”
So, despite the fact that Barrett is a Catholic, it is not her religion per se, but her personal variety of religion, academic history, legal rulings, and specific interpretation of the Constitution that matter most.
Perhaps, considering all that is currently dividing America, it is imperative—for to the survival of our democracy—that Barrett recuse herself, forthwith, from Trump’s demand for the Supreme Court to confirm his election.
Colleen O’Connor is a native San Diegan and a retired college professor.
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