On Monday, President Donald Trump intends to announce his nomination to fill Anthony Kennedy’s spot on the Supreme Court. A front-runner for the vacancy is Amy Coney Barrett, a devout Catholic who once referred to a legal career as “but a means to an end... and that end is building the Kingdom of God.”
Last year, during her confirmation hearing for the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, she was famously told by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), “Dogma and law are two different things. And I think whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different. And I think in your case... when [one reads] your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern.”
An out-of-context snippet of that quote — ”the dogma lives loudly within you” — became the GOP answer to “Nasty Woman”; you can now find it emblazoned on coffee mugs and T-shirts, where it’s framed as a symbol of religious persecution of the right rather than a valid concern about the separation of church and state.
At the time, NARAL President Ilyse Hogue issued a statement saying Barrett’s advancement to the federal bench “should be of great concern for anyone who believes in a truly independent judiciary, given her alignment with extreme, anti-choice organizations and her comments indicating her belief that Roe v. Wade was incorrectly decided.”
“Your legal career is but a means to an end... that end is building the kingdom of God.”
Hogue’s warning is based on a lecture series Barrett gave at her alma mater, Notre Dame Law School, where she also served as law professor. In a 2013 talk titled “Roe at 40: The Supreme Court, Abortion and the Culture War that Followed,” she focused heavily on abortion as a matter of state’s rights rather than a federally protected Constitutional right. In 2012, she signed a petition speaking out against the Affordable Care Act and its contraception coverage mandate.
In her confirmation hearing, she was asked about accepting a speaker’s fee from the Alliance Defending Freedom, the nation’s largest anti-LGBTQ legal advocacy group, which has advocated for forced sterilization for trans people. She’s a member of People for Praise, a religious group where men are referred to as the “head” and, until recently, women were referred to as —no joke— “handmaids.”
As Hogue warned, “Barrett’s anti-choice record is right in line with Trump’s disdain for women’s rights.”
Make no mistake: Trump is probably going to pick a woman to undo one of feminism’s most important victories and demand that women support her. Because, really, aren’t all women pretty much the same?
Conservatives have made this strategy explicit. In a piece for Bloomberg, Ramesh Ponnuru, author of The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life, said Barrett’s gender is the very reason he prefers her. “The main reason I favor Barrett, though, is the obvious one: She’s a woman... If Roe v. Wade is ever overturned — as I certainly hope it will be, as it is an unjust decision with no plausible basis in the Constitution — it would be better if it were not done by only male justices, with every female justice in dissent.”
“Make no mistake: Trump is going to pick a woman to undo one of feminism's most important victories and demand that women support her.”
In short, if someone is going to bring down women’s health care, it should probably be a woman. Ponnoru makes it perfectly plain: The elevation of a very specific kind of woman will be weaponized against actual feminism, giving the GOP an air of fairness ― the men didn’t do it! That woman did! It’s a dizzying logic, for sure.
And dizzy we will stay if Trump selects Barrett, and tries to gaslight us into this false notion that because they do not support Barrett, liberal women are the real enemy.
Madeleine Albright often spoke of “a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” That “special place” has since been evoked and often misquoted for the sole purpose of pitting women against each other, be it Sarah Palin promoting her place on the 2008 GOP presidential ticket, or anti-choice conservative women condemning Feinstein’s valid concerns about Barrett. That misuse turns a powerful statement of sisterhood in the support of gender equality into an antagonistic act of gendered “you’re with us or you’re against us” aggression.
Albright’s quote doesn’t endorse blind support of all women by all women, as the women of the GOP no doubt are well aware. If these women truly supported women, they wouldn’t be so hellbent on destroying reproductive rights and access to health care, pushing continued attacks against trans people, or any of the other issues disproportionately affecting marginalized women.
Which is why the selection of Barrett would be no step forward for women, though it will assuredly be presented as such by the Trump machine, positioning the naysaying liberals as difficult and impossible to please hypocrites, a key piece of the right’s media strategy. “You wanted a woman,” the choice seems to say. “This one’s a woman! Not even a thank you! Why are you so sexist?”
“Albright’s quote doesn’t endorse blind support of all women by all women, as the women of the GOP no doubt are well aware.”
We have seen the Trump administration pull this gambit before. When Gina Haspel was nominated as the director of the CIA, Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted, “There is no one more qualified to be the first woman to lead the CIA than 30+ year CIA veteran Gina Haspel. Any Democrat who claims to support women’s empowerment and our national security but opposes her nomination is a total hypocrite.”
To Sanders, Haspel’s gender was the only credential required to be considered a beacon of “women’s empowerment,” despite her involvement in torture and in the covering up of torture.
If Trump nominates Barrett, the pink cloud of faux feminism will descend yet again, this time to convince us that elevating a woman to the Supreme Court, where she would likely gut reproductive rights for millions of women, is “empowerment.” We will be told yet again that there is a special place in hell for us if we don’t cheer as a woman throws millions of other women under the bus. To borrow from another favorite slogan: This is not what a feminist looks like.
If we cannot be trusted to parse the words of Albright, perhaps we should embrace a different quote, from Audre Lorde: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
We cannot blindly support women who would prefer that we — any of us — remain in shackles, and even be forced back into old ones.