WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - Among Justice Anthony Kennedy's possible successors, 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Amy Coney Barrett is at the top of Trump's list — literally.
Barrett's name appears first atop the president's alphabetical list of 25 Supreme Court contenders. But she stands out in more important ways.
Barrett is a faithful Catholic and mother of seven children, and she served as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. She's a former student and instructor of law at the University of Notre Dame, twice honored as "Distinguished Professor of the Year."
She is also fresh from the congressional confirmation gauntlet, emerging victorious last fall from an anti-Catholic barrage led by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and her Democrat allies. As that extraordinary clash revealed, Barrett sparks fear inside leftist circles.
In May 2017, President Donald Trump picked Barrett to fill a vacant seat on the 7th Circuit Court. Her nomination was supported by recommendations from hundreds of colleagues and students. One letter, signed by 49 Notre Dame faculty, read:
She is a brilliant teacher and scholar, and a warm and generous colleague. She possesses in abundance all of the other qualities that shape extraordinary jurists: discipline, intellect, wisdom, impeccable temperament, and above all, fundamental decency and humanity. Indeed, it is a testament to Amy's fitness for this office that every full-time member of our faculty has signed this letter. … Despite our differences, we unanimously agree that our constitutional system depends upon an independent judiciary staffed by talented people devoted to the fair and impartial administration of the rule of law. And we unanimously agree that Amy is such a person.
In September, Barrett was brought before a Senate panel to give a breakdown of her legal philosophy. But what unfolded was a grilling over her Catholic principles.
Ahead of the hearings, Barrett had been vilified for previously written work examining tensions between Catholic principles and established case law. A coalition of left-wing activists voiced alarm at her nomination, asserting the Notre Dame professor "would put her personal beliefs ahead of the law" in cases where the two conflict.
"Stunningly, Barrett has asserted that judges should not follow the law or the Constitution when it conflicts with their personal religious beliefs," the group argued.
But supporters countered that, based on a reading of Barrett's own work, such allegations were legally unsound.
As they pointed out, Barrett has explicitly stated that "judges cannot — nor should they try to — align our legal system with the Church's moral teaching whenever the two diverge." She's also suggested that judges should recuse themselves in cases where their religious beliefs run counter to their judicial responsibility.
The detractors' position was soundly refuted by legal analysts. Still, certain members of the Senate Judiciary Committee echoed the activists' claims.
Referencing Barrett's 1998 law review article, "Catholic Judges in Capital Cases," Sen. Feinstein pressed the professor on the depth of her faith, insinuating that her Catholic principles would compromise her ability to rule fairly.
"When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you," Feinstein quipped. "And that's of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for, for years, in this country."
"It is never appropriate for a judge to apply their personal convictions, whether it derives from faith or personal conviction," Barrett answered.
But doubting Democrats were not satisfied. Other senators — including a self-identified Catholic — also voiced concern over Barrett's faith.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durban, a one-time pro-life advocate excommunicated for his later abortion advocacy, singled out Barrett's use of the term "orthodox Catholics" as unfair to those who support abortion.
Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono echoed Feinstein's concerns: "Ms. Barrett, I think your article is very plain in your perspective about the role of religion for judges and particularly with regard to Catholic judges."
Minnesota Sen. Al Franken suggested Barrett was unfit to serve as a federal judge because she appeared at an event sponsored by religious liberty nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom — a Christian legal organization smeared falsely as a "hate group" by activists at the discredited Southern Poverty Law Center. Four months later, Franken resigned in disgrace over sexual misconduct charges.
So egregious was the line of questioning directed at Barrett that Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse reminded his Democrat colleagues of the Constitution's religious test clause, which "prohibits the imposition of religious scrutiny against public officials."
"I think some of the questioning that you have been subjected to today seems to miss some of these fundamental constitutional protections we all have," Sasse told Barrett.
In the end, the Left's attempt to derail Barrett's nomination ran out of steam. She was confirmed by the Senate, 55-43, in a vote that broke largely along party lines.
The same ideals that worried Feinstein and her activist allies elated pro-life advocates.
The Susan B. Anthony List applauded Barrett's confirmation, calling it "a victory for the pro-life movement as well as for the fundamental freedom of all Americans to live out their faith in the public square."
Likewise, Americans United for Life said in a statement it was "especially encouraged" that she was heading to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, adding her scholarship has "demonstrated her dedication to preserving the originalist legacy of her former boss, the late Justice Antonin Scalia."
Now, less than eight months on the 7th Circuit, Judge Barrett is being studied as a possible replacement for Justice Kennedy. First on an alphabetical list of candidates, many faithful Catholics are waiting to see if she emerges on top.