Donald Trump's selection of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the Supreme Court seat formerly held by Ruth Bader Ginsburg has caused an explosion of anger from his political opponents in the United States.

The President announced his choice in the White House's Rose Garden Saturday, praising Judge Barrett, 48, as one of America's "most brilliant and gifted legal minds".

"She is a woman of unparalleled achievement, towering intellect, sterling credentials, and unyielding loyalty to the Constitution," Mr Trump said.

"I urge all members of the other side of the aisle to provide Judge Barrett with the respectful and dignified hearing that she deserves and, frankly, that our country deserves.

"I urge lawmakers and members of the media to refrain from personal or partisan attacks."

But those attacks had already started, and only continued in the ensuing hours.

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'SHE'S A NUT': PERSONAL ATTACKS BEGIN

Judge Barrett graduated top of her class at the University of Notre Dame's law school, and went on to clerk for the late Justice Antonin Scalia before becoming a long-serving professor at her alma mater.

Like Justice Scalia before her, she is an originalist. In other words, Judge Barrett believes the courts should interpret the US Constitution as the authors intended at the time it was written, instead of treating it like a living document.

She became a federal judge in 2017, when Mr Trump chose her to fill a vacancy on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The Senate confirmed her by a vote of 55-43, with three Democrats supporting her.

But that confirmation was not without controversy. During a hearing on Judge Barrett's nomination, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein grilled her on her conservative religious beliefs, implying they would have undue influence over her interpretation of the law.

Judge Barrett is a devout Catholic. She is firmly against abortion, and is a member of a community called the People of Praise, which believes - among other things - that men have authority over their wives.

"When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that's of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for, for years in this country," Ms Feinstein told her at the hearing.

Judge Barrett responded by promising to follow "all Supreme Court precedent without fail", implying she would uphold the court's previous decisions - among them Roe vs Wade, which essentially legalised abortion across the US.

"I would never impose my own personal convictions upon the law," she said.

 

With Judge Barrett's return to the spotlight, the attacks on her religious beliefs from some quarters have resumed.

Comedian Bill Maher ripped into her on his TV show on Friday night, labelling her "really, really Catholic". He meant it as a pejorative.

"She's a f***ing nut," Maher said.

"Amy Coney Barrett - Catholic. Really Catholic. I mean really, really Catholic, like speaking in tongues.

"Like, she doesn't believe in condoms, which is what she has in common with Trump, because he doesn't either. We learned of that from Stormy Daniels."

Several US media outlets, most notably Newsweek, drew a link between the People of Praise group and Margaret Atwood's novel The Handmaid's Tale, since adapted into an award-winning TV drama.

Newsweek claimed the community had "served as an inspiration" for the book, citing its previous practice of calling female spiritual advisers "handmaids".

Atwood has never specifically cited the People of Praise as an inspiration for her dystopian society, Gilead. Speaking to ABC News in recent days, she downplayed the connection.

"I certainly did not confine myself to one sect or group," said the author.

"So I don't think this is a thread that can be legitimately used in this way."

BACKLASH AGAINST THE BACKLASH

The criticism of Judge Barrett's faith, particularly from Maher, has been condemned across much of the political spectrum.

Legal commentator and professor Jonathan Turley said the comedian's "raving assault" showed "the triumph of rage over reason". He also brought up Ms Feinstein's questioning from three years ago.

"When Ginsburg, a devout Jew, was nominated, Feinstein did not object that, 'The dogma lives loudly in you,' and commentators like Maher did not portray her as a barking religious fanatic or question whether she approves of condoms," Prof Turley said.

"Imagine if a conservative commentator responded to President Obama's nomination of (Elena) Kagan or (Sonia) Sotomayor by referring to sex with a stripper or referring to Kagan as 'really, really Jewish'.

"To paraphrase Ms Feinstein: 'Prejudice lives loudly in you.'"

"You can disagree with somebody based on whether they're pro-life or pro-choice," former Democratic senator Joe Lieberman told Fox News.

"But when you start to say that you're against them because their religion - in this case their Roman Catholicism - determines their point of view, you're doing something really abhorrent that I think is bigoted, is un-American, and incidentally, is unconstitutional.

"In America, we don't question anybody who's seeking an office of public trust based on their religion. That's what America is all about."

And a current Democratic senator, Sheldon Whitehouse, expressed a similar opinion last week.

"A person's religious views or background should not make any difference, so long as it's clear that they can leave that personal background at the robing room door and give impartial justice to whomever is before them, irrespective of whether their personal religious views might dictate something different than the law," he said.

CHANGING THE SUBJECT

The Democratic Party's senior leaders, the most significant of whom is presidential nominee Joe Biden, are vehemently opposed to Judge Barrett's nomination - but they are trying to steer clear of talking about her religion.

Mr Biden argued her appointment to the Supreme Court could put Americans' healthcare under threat. The Trump administration is currently trying to get Barack Obama's signature law, The Affordable Care Act, overturned.

"Even now, in the midst of a global health pandemic, the Trump administration is asking the Supreme Court to overturn the entire law, including its protections for people with pre-existing conditions," he said in a statement.

"Today President Trump has nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett as the successor to Justice Ginsburg's seat. She has a written track record of disagreeing with the Supreme Court's decision upholding The Affordable Care Act. She critiqued Chief Justice John Roberts' majority opinion upholding the law in 2012.

"The American people know the Supreme Court decisions affect their everyday lives. The US Constitution was designed to give the voters one chance to have their voice heard on who serves on the court. That moment is now and their voice should be heard."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer described Mr Trump's rapid attempt to get Judge Barrett confirmed before the election "disgraceful", claiming he and Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell had "stolen two judges from the American people".

Mr McConnell refused to allow a vote on Mr Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, before the 2016 election. Mr Trump went on to fill that seat with Justice Neil Gorsuch, a conservative.

"Judge Ginsburg had a dying wish that the next president choose. Justice Ginsburg must be turning over in her grave in heaven to see that the person they chose seems to be intent on undoing all the things that Ginsburg did," said Mr Schumer.

"I will strongly, strongly, strongly oppose this nomination."

 

SPEAKING FOR HERSELF

Judge Barrett herself appeared alongside Mr Trump as he announced her nomination yesterday. When he was done, she got a chance to speak.

"I fully understand that this is a momentous decision for a President. And if the Senate does me the honour of confirming me, I pledge to discharge the responsibilities of this job to the very best of my ability," Judge Barrett said.

She went on to pay tribute to the woman she might replace, Justice Ginsburg, who was an icon of progressive law.

"Should I be confirmed, I will be mindful of who came before me," she promised.

"The flag of the United States is still flying at half staff in memory of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to mark the end of a great American life.

"Justice Ginsburg began her career at a time when women were not welcome in the legal profession. But she not only broke glass ceilings, she smashed them. For that, she has won the admiration of women across the country and, indeed, all over the world.

"She was a woman of enormous talent and consequence, and her life of public service serves as an example to us all. Particularly poignant to me was her long and deep friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia, my own mentor.

"Justices Scalia and Ginsburg disagreed fiercely in print without rancour in person. Their ability to maintain a warm and rich friendship, despite their differences, even inspired an opera.

"These two great Americans demonstrated that arguments, even about matters of great consequence, need not destroy affection. In both my personal and professional relationships, I strive to meet that standard.

"I clerked for Justice Scalia more than 20 years ago, but the lessons I learned still resonate. His judicial philosophy is mine too. A judge must apply the law as written.

"Judges are not policymakers, and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they might hold."

Originally published as 'She's a nut': 'Raving' attack on judge


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