• Daniel Ethan Finneran

A Catholic On The Supreme Court

October 2020


If ever there lived a perfectly unexceptionable figure, to whom neither aspersion could be affixed, nor criticism attached, it would be President Trump’s recent Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett. She is, in many ways, the paragon of an American citizen. So far as they come, she’s a perfect form, an ideal type to which all of us, despite our constant bickering and our irreconcilable diversity, might collectively aspire.


Faithful and fecund, energetic and measured, approachable and brilliant, accomplished and esteemed, respected and beloved, Amy Coney Barrett is the encapsulation of all these traits, and doubtless more. She is, like so few of us, disarmingly comfortable within confines of her own skin. Perhaps this is the consequence of a boundless mind confident in all that it knows, or a tender heart to which a bursting family’s love adds immeasurable strength.


Either way, she’s a remarkable person, and that’s quite beyond dispute. This much is obvious when one judges any part of her personality, or when one receives the opportunity to hear her speak. In so doing, one’s quick to recognize that she has the head of a scholar, the heart of a mother, the humility of a public servant, and the subtlety of a justice engrossed by the law. She is, in a word, delightfully complete and we’re lucky to have her. She’s one of those rare, polished types of which this country, collectively and for many years to come, will persist in being proud.


When first she captured the nation’s attention, however, Democrats thought they saw on her body of thought and work an enticing Achilles’ Heel. Like Paris from afar, bow-strung Trojans from the dais, they sought in 2017 to cripple her confirmation to the Seventh Circuit of Appeals. To do so, they shot through the air a nasty and indecent slew of arrows, by which many of us, noncombatants in the field, were similarly pierced. All sensitive Americans felt their impact. They attacked the depth of her commitment to her religion, assailed the sincerity of her devotion to her creed, and insinuated that, because of the tenets of her faith, she’d be unable disinterestedly to occupy a judicial seat.


Infamously, this sentiment was expressed by the elder Senator of California, Diane Feinstein. In but a few grating words, an utterance by which, in the approach of her concluding years, her political legacy might be defined, she chastised Barrett by saying that the “dogma lives loudly in you”. Three years hence, the line has been repeated over and again. The “dogma”, of course, to which Feinstein so contemptuously referred, was and remains the Catholic faith, a denomination of which America, originally mostly Protestant, has always been somewhat suspicious. The presumption, then as now, was that a Catholic was nothing but an incorrigible papist, whose bonds of affection toward the state could never be as strong as those she held toward Rome.


The thought was that, between a Catholic and an American, there could be neither congruity, friendship, nor trust. The two, in a word, were mutually exclusive. A Catholic was, by the very dictates of her creed, inescapably monarchical, theocratic, haughty, and mean. She was prejudiced, unwelcoming, brainwashed, and incapable of seeing the world as it is. Her vision was narrow and captive to the hazy impediments of her cherished stained glass.


An American, on the other hand, was republican, democratic, self-willed, and free. She was inclusive, open, and secular, and absolutely impatient of authority disseminated from across the ocean. She saw the world for what it was, and hoped not for salvation in a life to come, but for prosperity in that in which she participated every single day. She looked not up, toward the Vatican on the hilltop, but around her with a leveling equality and a Bible in her hand.


Of course, nothing could be further from the truth; a Catholic, no matter how fully absorbed by her dogma, or overtaken by her creed, can be just as fine, patriotic, and pure an American as any Protestant, or any other. No candidate for public office, be they elected by the general suffrage, or nominated by the executive’s whim, should be made to answer for his or her faith. That’s a personal matter, never a political one, and it ought not to hamper one’s privilege and ability to secure a governmental seat.


Article VI of the Constitution is rather explicit on this point. “All judicial officers”, says it, “shall be bound by oath or affirmation to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States”. With that point, the conversation ends.


Yet the imagination is unrestrained. It flies away from me with elusive hypotheticals around which I can’t hope to throw a leash. One can imagine, not so many years from now, a situation similar to that which we see today, but with a different religion, and with the parties flipped.


What if, for example, a Democrat president nominated a Muslim-American to a vacated Supreme Court seat? We’ve yet to witness so unique a nomination to so lofty a chair. That doesn’t mean, of course, that an eminently-qualified Muslim-American jurist won’t soon emerge from our national trove of brilliant legal minds, ingratiate himself to the political instincts and personal trust of a Commander-In-Chief, dazzle the two-dozen senators from whom his confirmation is to be secured, and claim his position among a robed group of nine, a peculiar coterie to which the Constitution has guaranteed employment for life.


When this day arrives, and arrive it eventually will, I ask whether or not the scribblers of the intelligentsia would tolerate a Republican senator noting, in a hostile and an accusatory tone, that the “dogma lived loudly” within him? Would they not stiffen their spines with every muscle of indignation at the thought of a Muslim nominee being scrutinized on account of his faith? Would they not rush to his defense, extol the virtues of his Islamic creed, and censure the ranking senator by whom the comment was made? Would they not condemn every pundit who entertained the fear that his fidelity to the Constitution might be weakened by an association to the Qur’an? Would they not excoriate every conjecture holding that his allegiance to Sharia Law might supersede his oath to prioritize that of this land?


The answer, I think, is obvious. One’s faith ought not to be a consideration when seeking the public’s trust. All that’s required is that she, as a Catholic, or he, as a Muslim, be “bound by oath or affirmation to support this Constitution”. If only they be constitutionalists, I care not for their religious beliefs. Let every religion of the world be represented among the nine—it matters to me little. So long as they can read the text of our Constitution as written, and appreciate the tertiary role to which—as the third of three branches—they were originally relegated, it is of no concern.

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