Senators Grill Trump Nominee Who Suggested Religion Overruled The Constitution

Professor Amy Coney Barrett also wrote that judges should not have to abide by precedent.

WASHINGTON ― A Senate panel on Wednesday considered the judicial nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, a controversial Catholic law professor who once seemed to suggest that one’s religious beliefs ought to take precedence over the U.S. Constitution.

President Donald Trump nominated the Notre Dame Law School professor to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit earlier this year. Barrett clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

The Alliance for Justice, a progressive judicial advocacy group, called on the Trump administration to withdraw Barrett’s nomination in July because of her past writings on the role of faith in the courtroom. The organization also objected to her views on the matter of stare decisis, or the doctrine of legal precedent.

In an article she co-wrote with John H. Garvey entitled “Catholic Judges in Capital Cases,” Barrett criticized a Supreme Court justice who once testified that a judge’s oath to the Constitution should “alone” govern how they rule from the bench. Barrett wrote that that was not a “proper response for a Catholic judge to take with respect to abortion or the death penalty.”

In a 2013 article titled “Precedent and Jurisprudential Disagreement,” Barrett said she agreed with those who say that it is “more legitimate” for a justice to “enforce her best understanding of the Constitution rather than a precedent she thinks clearly in conflict with it.”

Barrett has also been critical of the supremacy of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision affirming a woman’s right to an abortion, as legal precedent. In a 2013 article, she included arguments as to why the case was not a super precedent, noting litigants have continued to challenge it over the years.

“These views are so contrary to our system of democracy and justice that, in our view, they clearly disqualify her for the federal bench,” AFJ president Nan Aron said in a statement.

Barrett defended herself during the hearing by explaining that she wrote the article on Catholic judges with her law school professor two decades ago and that it no longer accurately represented her views. She further said that she would have worded her views differently today.

“It’s never appropriate for a judge to impose that judge’s personal convictions on the law,” she said, adding that she would recuse herself if her faith conflicts with her duties as a judge.

However, Barrett maintained that she continued to “stand and vehemently believe the core proposition” of her article, which she said was that “it is never permissible for a judge to follow personal conviction rather than what the law requires.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee and a champion of women’s reproductive rights, acknowledged that Barrett was a particularly “controversial” nominee. Feinstein asked her whether she would follow years of Supreme Court precedent on abortion.

“Absolutely, I would,” Barrett responded. “I understand circuit court judges are absolutely bound by precedent of the Supreme Court as well as the precedent of their own circuit.”

Throughout questioning by various Democratic senators on the committee, Barrett maintained repeatedly that she would follow Supreme Court precedent on abortion. She declined, however, to answer questions about her personal beliefs on the issue, citing long-standing Judiciary committee protocol.

Barrett also denied that she once said that a judge does not need to follow legal precedent.

“I will follow all Supreme Court precedent without fail,” she said.

Reached by phone after the hearing, AFJ Legal Director Dan Goldberg said Barrett had “gone out of her way to lie about her record, misstate what she previously believed and try to hide who she really is from the Senate and the American people.”

“We are not misleading the Senate. We didn’t take any quotes out of context,” he added, arguing that Barrett would “seriously erode rights of women and the rights of LGBTQ Americans” if confirmed to the court.

A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to AFJ Legal Director Dan Goldberg as Dan Goldstein. We regret the error.

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