Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) accused Democrats of playing the “politics of personal destruction.” She told Barrett that her Democratic colleagues on the committee “seem to be quite amazed that you could balance career and family.”
“And to my friends across the aisle, I would say that the American people are no more afraid of the ideas of a Catholic woman than they are of the words splattered on a protest poster being held by a liberal woman,” Blackburn added.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) repeatedly alluded to the idea that Democrats were attacking Barrett for her Catholic faith. On Monday, he suggested that merely raising the landmark Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut, “I can only assume is another hit at Judge Barrett’s religious faith.” On Tuesday, he added that “we were assured that you would not be attacked on the basis of your faith; I noticed that didn’t last 24 hours.” And on Wednesday, he invoked Robert Bork, the Supreme Court nominee whose 1987 nomination Republicans accused Democrats of defeating by nefarious means: “His name has become a verb: the Bork-ing of nominees. I think what we’ve seen today is an attempting Bork-ing of Judge Amy Barrett.”
In reality, what we saw this week bore little resemblance to the GOP caricatures of a nominee being railroaded because of her faith.
It’s true that this issue loomed over Barrett’s hearing — but mostly because of how Democrats overreached in asking Barrett about it during her 2017 confirmation to a federal appeals court (i.e., “the dogma lives loudly within you”). Perhaps owing to that, though, they trod extremely gingerly around anything involving Barrett’s religion or personal life. They instead sought to focus extensively on how her past comments suggest she might have prejudged cases on abortion rights and Obamacare.
In fact, the words “religion,” “Catholic,” “Christian” and “faith” were invoked in relation to religious issues about 80 times over two days of question-and-answer sessions with Barrett. Republicans and Barrett accounted for 75 of them; Democrats, only five.
Among the few times that Democrats did invoke faith, they praised Barrett for hers or sought to insulate themselves from the perception that they might be raising it as an issue.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who was responsible for the “dogma” quote from 2017, began by telling Barrett, “We all have our moral values. We have our religions. We live by that. I respect you and your family for doing just that.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) qualified a question about same-sex marriage by emphasizing that he was asking for Barrett’s legal position, “not a religious faith position.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) invoked Catholicism only in responding to GOP allegations that Democrats were targeting Barrett’s faith. “I did want to make one thing clear after listening to that for a half-hour: that Joe Biden is Catholic, and he is a man of faith.”
About the closest Democrats came to asking Barrett about an issue directly involving religion was when Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) twice asked her about how racial discrimination law applied to interfaith weddings.
The charge that Democrats were targeting Barrett’s personal life or were “Bork-ing” her was also difficult to substantiate.
Democrats repeatedly praised Barrett’s family of seven children, with Feinstein beginning Tuesday’s session by asking Barrett to introduce them and telling her, “You’ve done a very good job.” To the extent that Barrett was asked about juggling her family and her career, it mostly came from Republicans — including Sen. John Neely Kennedy (La.), who asked her who does the laundry in her house.
As for personal attacks, the hearings were remarkably consistent with how such hearings have been handled in the past. Democrats focused on how Barrett’s past comments and actions on issues such as abortion and Obamacare might be applied to her jurisprudence on the Supreme Court. The argument was never that Barrett was a bad person for signing on to a letter saying Roe v. Wade had a “barbaric legacy” but, rather, about whether that showed she had already concluded that the case was incorrectly decided and she might overturn it.
Ditto Obamacare. On that one, her past comments were arguably even more applicable, given that she explicitly criticized Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s 2010 decision upholding the law, saying Roberts had “pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute.” It’s not difficult to read that and argue that Barrett might have preconceived notions about the law’s constitutionality.
When Democrats did invoke personal qualities, it was most often for her refusal to answer some of their questions. Often, this was in keeping with previous nominees, specifically when it came to issues that could come before the court on which she may soon sit. Occasionally, though, Barrett also declined to weigh in on matters that seem like settled law — or offered curious comments suggesting that she was somehow unfamiliar with President Trump’s positions on climate change and overturning Obamacare.
But again, this is pretty much par for the course. The nominee almost always declines to go into as much detail as the opposition would like. Regardless of whether Barrett took that further than her predecessors, seeing the opposition complain about it is hardly the “politics of personal destruction.”
There are parallels to Bork, a favorite of conservatives much like Barrett. Democrats opposed his nomination in large part because of things he had written — including his opposition of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and issue with how Roe v. Wade was decided.
But back then, they cast these things in much starker terms.
“Robert Bork’s America,” Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said, “is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, [and] schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution."
The actor Gregory Peck also provided the narration for a famous ad that savaged Bork for his past comments on civil rights.
Bork did himself no favors by referring to women who had to undergo sterilization to keep their jobs, “I suppose that they were glad to have the choice.’’ Referring to poll taxes, he said, “It was just a $1.50 poll tax.”
Barrett offered no such pronouncements — she was a thoroughly steady witness — and the Democratic opposition to her sounded nothing like Edward Kennedy’s quote or the Peck ad. Democrats have offered stark warnings about what it might mean if the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe or strike down Obamacare, but the hearing has been overall rather impersonal, probably owing to how much Democrats feared stepping over the line as they did in 2017.
And indeed, at least one Senate Judiciary Committee Republican argued Wednesday that Democrats hardly put up a Bork-esque resistance or even went all-out.
“I just assumed that my colleagues were going to come out with guns blazing. I also assumed that their base would demand it,” Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) said, according to Politico. “My guess is that some of my Democratic colleagues are getting pretty serious pushback from members of their crank wing. [And] they’re ignoring it.”
That is a more accurate summation of what we saw. In many ways, the fight hasn’t been nearly what the left flank of the Democratic Party might have wanted — or what Kennedy’s GOP colleagues pretended it was. They seemed to be preparing to prop up Barrett as the victim of a kind of persecution that never really arrived.