If things continue on the current trajectory, just in time before the November 3 election, the Supreme Court will have its newest Justice in Amy Coney Barrett. Her appointment to the United States’ highest court seems all but a lock as of this writing. But before that officially happens, she needed to clear a critical threshold, which she did.
Holding court amid a barrage of hostile questions before the Senate Judiciary Committee, this forty-something Catholic mom of seven, with poise and calm, deftly avoided all the traps that Senate Democrats put before her on issues ranging from abortion to gay rights.
Judge Barrett was so stunningly adroit at handling Senators’ often hostile and meandering questions that at one point, in a show of her intellectual breadth, when asked what notes she was using to help her gather her thoughts amid testifying, she — with a wry smile — held up a note pad of paper showing an empty page. The image of her holding up the note pad of paper instantly became a viral meme on social media. The moment underscored the reputation of Judge Barrett as a brilliant jurist whose abilities are second to none.
In keeping with Supreme Court nominations’ etiquette, Judge Barrett refused to state how she would rule an abortion case to come before America’s highest court. Still, her mere acknowledgment that Roe v. Wade was not a sufficient “super-precedent,” that is, Roe v. Wade is not sufficiently agreed-upon as to its merits, caused pro-abortion voices to panic. In truth, none of us know with absolute certainty how Judge Barrett would rule on an abortion case. Still, her personal life — from causes she’s supported to academic arguments made, as well as being an adoptive mother — indicates a person who is unquestionably pro-life. In a fate only of providence, a Justice Amy Coney Barrett would be an ostensible role-reversal and antithesis to the jurisprudence of the woman she is replacing, the recently deceased Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
A self-proclaimed “originalist” and “textualist,” Judge Barrett believes that laws should be interpreted according to what the Constitution meant at the time of an amendment’s passage. Her approach varies from those with a “living Constitution” approach who are wont not to understand the Constitution as a timeless or static document, but a record that is read into to “discover” new rights based on the infamous “penumbras” and “emanations” that makes the Constitution little else than a mirror reflecting the policy preferences of the justice in question.
There are many reasons that a Justice Barrett on the Supreme Court should be a welcomed reality to religious conservatives in Kentucky. Not only would she cement a 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, but she is also an individual who interprets the Constitution within the constraints of its design. This is an important principle of Constitutional analysis. Whether a Justice understands the Constitution as a constrained or unconstrained document left pliable to jurisprudential trickery is the difference between a jurist who believes in constitutional republicanism versus a justice setting themselves up as a Philosopher-King ruling through oligarchic sophistry.
But even more so, in a nation as large, diverse, and divided as twenty-first-century America is, a Justice Amy Coney Barrett is a demonstration that the beliefs of religious conservatives — whether Baptists, Presbyterians, or Catholics — are not outside the mainstream, no matter how much they are depicted to be by secular media and cultural elites. And let’s be clear, that’s one reason why she is so imminently detested and draws the ire of secular progressivism: She in herself is a repudiation of the sort of secular feminism envisaged by Judge Ginsburg. The very normalcy through which she lives her life as a devoted and devoutly religious mother, wife, and jurist drives those who insist that it is a betrayal of her intelligence and abilities to live the ways she lives and believes the things she believes.
In Amy Coney Barrett, religious conservatives are getting a champion. Not only is she an example for women of faith to look up to, but she is also a model of constitutional sanity.
Andrew T. Walker is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.