Amy Coney Barrett: A Progressive Candidate?

For full disclosure, I am a Jesuit-educated Catholic who caucuses in Unitarian-Universalist congregations whose principles and practices resonate more firmly with mine than most Roman Catholic institutions. Moreover, they more strongly resonate with my understanding of Catholic social teaching which I have valued, taught, and used throughout my career as a community organizer, an urban planner, and director of non-profit organizations including Catholic Charities and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

I have been taught to be slow to judge persons especially for their opinions. And so it is with Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Even though I have made negative and critical judgment strongly against the person who appointed her and am acting to do all I can to stop his reelection in November. And I am disgusted, but not surprised, by the hypocrisy of the President and Republican Senate by their rush to appoint her.

I am waiting, hoping to see if Judge Barrett, an excellent student and teacher at Notre Dame, will draw on the universal and enlightened principles of Catholic social teaching as did Judge Ginsburg did with her Jewish heritage of tzedek and tikkun olam. Judaism, Catholic and Protestant Christianity, Unitarian-Universalism, and, indeed, Islam are all founded on recognition of the equal dignity of all human beings and the duty of compassionate support for the poor and those left out of full participation in community, including women.

While Judge Ginsburg’s religion influenced her character and even her viewpoint towards equality, never did she make her judicial opinion based on religious teaching, thereby strictly upholding the First Amendment including freedom of and from religion. I hope earnestly that will be the same with Judge Barrett.

But abortion seems to be the political issue here. Trump wants to rally his evangelical and conservative Catholic base by his appointment. Democrats are concerned that a long-term majority conservative court will backlash against gains made by persons who had formally been left out of full participation including the less wealthy, black people, new immigrants, gay and lesbian persons, and women. Most Republicans want to discourage abortion by laws against having or providing abortions. Most Democrats want to discourage abortion by laws that make abortion unnecessary.

I have argued elsewhere my opposition to abortion except when necessary for the full development of human life. I am influenced by my own religious education and by my study of the nature of the human person in science, philosophy, and theology. The big question is who decides when necessary? I believe, like any medical procedure, it is the decision of the one whose body is undergoing the procedure. And in the case of a pregnant woman, it is her body, her decision.

The case for a law guarding the right to life of the fertilized egg is the religious teaching that God infuses a soul at the moment of conception thus making the embryo a human person protected from murder. In rebuttal I argue: Yes, it is alive as is the sperm and the egg. But a human person? I could martial many arguments based on science, philosophy, and even theology to dispute that. The only human person here is the pregnant woman.

I just finished Caste by Isabel Wilkerson and understand how in a caste system, the dominant caste has control of the body of the lower caste. Does anybody but me have control of my body, its diet, its development, its growth, and, yes, even its death? More important than abortion to me is ending the caste system that has been governing America before and since its founding. As Judge Ginsberg taught, the rights of women to decide is more than a privacy issue. It is a human rights issue.

And this is the political issue that I hope Judge Barrett, influenced by Catholic Social Teaching, even the principle of subsidiarity, which encourages people to organize, speak, and act at the workplace and neighborhood, and make decisions at the lowest level possible, can bring to the court. If so, she can be an instrument for the renewal of democracy now threated by the very people who will be supporting her appointment.

And even perhaps by me. I will be listening closely. Hoping perhaps for a miracle.