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Friday, April 23, 2021

Ross Douthat on Judge Amy Coney Barrett, nominated to the Supreme Court

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Douthat: Amy Coney Barrett is a perfectly orthodox Catholic on abortion and same-sex marriage, just as her parents were and she has always said. She is also a person in constant dialogue with the Jewish tradition. And her choice — to be married to an African-American Jew at a very young age and to raise a daughter in a family with three Jewish fathers — had already made her something of a special case on all these things.

That creates some paradoxical cultural import here. You can’t caricature her ideology as an utter rejection of “liberal” causes because, on nearly all of them, she’s to the left of them. She’s to the left of them on climate change, but obviously not on transgender issues. She’s on the same page as them on school reform but is open to honest, humane approaches to disability and unemployment and so on.

And yet, as her nomination rises higher and higher in the air, it’s striking how her Judaism and her Catholicism are competing narratives for her personality and temperament. That’s a remarkable dynamic for any sort of nomination, and especially for a Catholic Catholic who is also a judge.

I don’t necessarily believe there’s something less appealing about Catholicism, just as I don’t believe that the culture war has anything to do with atheism. I simply think these are two lines of influence in a larger transition, as judges vie for a more lenient interpretation of the separation of church and state and grapples with what we have — religiously-motivated moral corruption and unethical behavior, all of which take their eternal toll.

Coney Barrett isn’t the first nominee to push back on some of this tradition. But on nearly every other judgeship, we see an evangelical Mormon and someone up for an early drinking contest. The latest nominee is Barrett, who was born in 1964 to a Polish-Catholic father and an African-American mother. The last time someone was an interracial child raised by Jewish parents became iconic because of Louis Brandeis, not because of Nathan Lewin.

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