‘A person of utmost integrity’: Catholic leaders pay tribute to Amy Coney Barrett

Catholic News Agency

Catholic leaders and academics have voiced their support following President Donald Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court.

Tributes to the Catholic judge and nominee followed Barrett’s official presentation in the White House Rose Garden Saturday evening, after a week of speculation that she was the president’s choice.

Announcing the selection, Trump called Barrett “one of our nation’s most brilliant and gifted legal minds,” Trump said, paying tribute to Barrett as “a woman of unparalleled achievement, towering intellect, sterling credentials and unyielding loyalty to the constitution,” and “eminently qualified” for service on the nation’s highest court

Barrett graduated from Rhodes College before receiving a full scholarship to Notre Dame Law School where she graduated first in her class.

Barrett went on to clerk for Judge Laurence Silberman and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, before going into private practice. She returned to Notre Dame Law School and taught classes in 2002 before becoming a professor in 2010. She currently serves on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, a position to which Trump nominated her in 2017.

Speaking after the nomination was announced, Notre Dame University president Fr. John Jenkins, CSC, paid tribute to Barrett, saying that “the same impressive intellect, character and temperament that made Judge Barrett a successful nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals will serve her and the nation equally well as a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.”

“She is a person of the utmost integrity who, as a jurist, acts first and foremost in accordance with the law,” Jenkins said.

Family photo of Amy Coney Barrett, her husband Jesse Barrett, and their seven children: Emma, Vivian, Tess, John Peter, Liam, Juliet and Benjamin. (Photo courtesy of White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows/Twitter)

Writing in the Washington Post, John Garvey, an expert in U.S. constitutional law and the president of The Catholic University of America, recalled meeting Barrett when she was a student of his at Notre Dame Law.

“After she graduated from law school,” Garvey said, “I wrote a one-line letter of recommendation for her to [Supreme Court] Justice Antonin Scalia: ‘Amy Coney is the best student I ever had.’ He was wise to hire her as a clerk.”

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, also welcomed the announcement, saying on Twitter: “Congratulations to Judge Amy Coney Barrett, now nominated to the Supreme Court. May God bless Judge Coney Barrett and her beautiful family with grace and peace in the challenging days to come.”

President Trump noted on Saturday that Barrett received bipartisan support during her Senate confirmation in 2017 and that as “a woman of unparalleled achievement, towering intellect, sterling credentials and unyielding loyalty to the constitution,” she is “eminently qualified” for service on the nation’s highest court.

Republican Senate leaders have indicated that they will move quickly to schedule confirmation hearings before the Senate judiciary committee and bring Barrett’s nomination to a full vote.

Barrett said Saturday that she “looked forward” to working with members of the Senate during the confirmation process.

“I will do my very best to demonstrate that I am worthy of your support,” she said, while conceding that she had “no illusions that the road ahead of me will be easy, either for the short term or the long haul.”

Judiciary committee chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he expects hearings to begin on Barrett’s nomination on Oct. 12, but two Democratic members of the committee, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CON), said they would refuse to meet with Barrett prior to the hearings.

In a statement sent to CNA Saturday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a Catholic, called Barrett “a well-qualified, highly respected nominee.”

“That’s why the Senate previously confirmed her,” Rubio said, while also noting that the judge’s Catholic faith would likely feature during the confirmation process.

During Barrett’s 2017 nomination hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) questioned her on her personal faith and values, saying that “when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern.”

In the past week, media criticism has focused on Barrett’s Catholic faith and the size of her family – she has seven children, including two children adopted from Haiti.

On Saturday, Rubio called Barrett “a person who is strong in her faith. Sadly, I expect my Democratic colleagues and the radical left to do all they can to assassinate her character and once again make an issue of her faith during her confirmation process.”

Speaking on Friday, ahead of the formal announcement of Barrett’s nomination, Princeton University professor Robert P. George also noted the anti-Catholic tone of much of the criticism of Barrett.

“I’ll give Amy Barrett’s opponents some good advice, in blissful assurance that they won’t take it,” George said on Twitter.

“Don’t attack her faith. Don’t go near it. Stay a million miles away. Talk about health care, immigration, the weather, anything but religion. It’s not her Achilles heel; it’s yours.”

COMING UP: Lessons from the improbable Scalia-Ginsburg friendship

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The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016 sent powerful shockwaves through American culture that reverberated deeply on both sides of the political and ideological spectrums. Those shockwaves have been reawakened with the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Justice Ginsburg died Sept. 18, after having lived an inspired life of public service. It’s tempting for some to reduce Justice Ginsburg and her life to the legal decisions and laws she upheld (or didn’t) during the 27 years she served on the bench of the Supreme Court, but doing so would be a grave disservice to her. Despite one’s consensus of what Justice Ginsburg stood for, she served her country nobly and helped to cement many notable advances for women’s rights and gender equality in our nation’s rule of law.

In a time of truly stark political division within the country, there’s a powerful lesson to be learned on both the right and the left in reflecting on the life of Justice Ginsburg and the deep friendship she shared with the late Justice Scalia.

Scalia and Ginsburg were virtual opposites when it came to their political ideologies. Scalia, a devout Catholic and father of nine children, was about as conservative and “right” as they come. Ginsburg, a fiercely liberal Jewish mother of two and an outspoken advocate of women’s rights, was a steadfast champion of the left. Rarely did they agree on the outcome of landmark Supreme Court cases, and their dissents to one another were not for the faint of heart. It would be contrary to today’s prevailing logic for them to be amicable acquaintances, let alone good friends.

And yet, they were. If Justice Scalia was still alive today, there can be little doubt that he’d kindly and poignantly eulogize his good friend Ruth Bader Ginsburg at her funeral, just as she did for him in 2016.  

While eulogizing her good friend Antonin Scalia on March 1, 2016, Justice Ginsburg shared an “indelible” memory of the late Justice Scalia from Dec. 12, 2000, the day Bush v. Gore was decided. 

“I was in chambers, exhausted after the marathon: review granted Saturday, briefs filed Sunday, oral argument Monday, and opinions completed and released Tuesday,” she recalled. “No surprise, Justice Scalia and I were on opposite sides. 

“The Court did the right thing, he had no doubt. I disagreed and explained why in a dissenting opinion. Around 9 p.m., the telephone, my direct line, rang. It was Justice Scalia. He didn’t say ‘Get over it.’ Instead, he asked, ‘Ruth, why are you still at the Court? Go home and take a hot bath.’ Good advice I promptly followed.” 

In the days following Justice Ginsburg’s death, one of Justice Scalia’s sons, Eugene, wrote a piece for the Washington Post recalling many fond memories of spending New Year’s Eve with his parents and Justice Ginsburg and her husband, Marty. The friendship between the two Justices, Eugene wrote, “was quite simple, as some of the best friendships are.” 

“They worked at the same place,” he continued. “They were both New Yorkers, close in age and liked a lot of the same things: the law, teaching, travel, music and a meal with family and friends.” 

On the other hand, Eugene observed that their differences were “as integral to the justices’ friendship as the similarities. She had made her mark as a pioneering advocate for women’s rights; my father was a traditional Catholic who came to prominence as a critic of activist courts. He respected what she had achieved in an era when the deck was stacked against her; from her experiences, he gained insight and depth of understanding. He liked learning and could learn from her.” 

And amid all of their differences and disagreements, “Not for a moment did one think the other should be condemned or ostracized,” Eugene wrote. “They believed that what they were doing — arriving at their own opinions thoughtfully and advancing them vigorously — was essential to the national good. With less debate, their friendship would have been diminished, and so, they believed, would our democracy.”

Their friendship endured until the end of Justice Scalia’s life. Aside from welcoming differences and engaging in civil and charitable debate, the Scalia-Ginsburg friendship teaches us that as humans, we are all much more than our politics and the ideologies we stand for. Our capacity to love and be loved by our friends transcends the walls of division, perceived or otherwise.

Justice Ginsburg, like a good and true friend, endearingly shared all the things she would miss about her friend during his eulogy, because that’s precisely what they were: friends.

“I will miss the challenges and the laughter he provoked, his pungent, eminently quotable opinions, so clearly stated that his words never slipped from the reader’s grasp, the roses he brought me on my birthday,” she said. 

About those roses: another of Justice Scalia’s sons, Christopher, shared on Twitter an anecdote about his father from United States Judge Jeffrey Sutton, who once asked Justice Scalia: “What good have all those roses done for you? Name one five-four case of any significance where you got Justice Ginsburg’s vote.” 

“Some things,” Justice Scalia gently replied, “are more important than votes.”