OP-ED: Why Amy Coney Barrett should push to suspend her nomination

John Duffy
Chicago Tribune (TNS)
Judge Amy Coney Barrett speaks Saturday after President Donald Trump announced her as his nominee to the Supreme Court in the Rose Garden at the White House.

For Amy Coney Barrett of the University of Notre Dame, where she and I are both professors, her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court represents the crowning achievement of her legal career.

Widely regarded as a conservative in the mold of her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Barrett has been praised as a brilliant scholar, a beloved teacher and a devoted mother. While Democrats are alarmed by the direction Barrett might take the court, there appears to be little they can do to stop it. Given the Republican majority in the Senate, Barrett’s confirmation as the next justice seems all but assured.

That is why it is vital that my Notre Dame colleague issue a public statement calling for an immediate halt to her nomination until after the November presidential election.

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There are three reasons Barrett should take this unprecedented step.

First, voting for the next president is already underway. According to the United States Election Project, more than 7 million people have cast their ballots, and millions more are likely to vote before Election Day. The rushed nature of Barrett’s nomination, an exercise of raw power politics by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, will effectively deprive the American people of a voice in selecting the next Supreme Court justice.

Judge Barrett is not responsible for the anti-democratic machinations driving her nomination. Nor is she complicit in the hypocrisy of fast-tracking her nomination weeks before a presidential election when the Republican Senate refused to grant Merrick Garland so much as a hearing a full year before the last election. Yet Barrett can refuse to be party to such maneuvers. She can honor the democratic process by insisting the hearings be put on hold until after the voters have made their choice.

Second, the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dying wish was that her seat on the court remain open until a new president was installed. At her nomination ceremony at the White House, Barrett praised Justice Ginsburg as “a woman of enormous talent and consequence, whose life of public service serves as an example to us all.” Barrett’s nomination just days after Ginsburg’s death was unseemly and a repudiation of her legacy. Barrett can repair the injury to Ginsburg’s memory by calling for a pause in the nomination until the next president is seated.

Finally, Barrett’s nomination comes at a treacherous moment in the United States. Our politics are consumed by polarization, mistrust and fevered conspiracy theories. Our country is shaken by pandemic and economic suffering. There is violence in the streets of American cities. The politics of this nomination, as Barrett surely understands, will further inflame our civic wounds, undermine confidence in the court and deepen the divide among ordinary citizens, especially if the judge is seated by a Republican Senate weeks before the election of a Democratic president and Congress.

To ask Barrett to halt her nomination is asking a lot. Should former Vice President Joe Biden be elected, Barrett’s seat on the court will almost certainly be lost. The honor of a lifetime would be gone. That would be painful, surely. Yet there is much Barrett stands to gain in risking her seat.

In calling for her nomination to be delayed, Barrett would earn the respect of fair-minded people everywhere. She would provide a model of civic selflessness. And she might well inspire Americans of different beliefs toward a renewed commitment to the common good.

I congratulate my Notre Dame colleague, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, on her singular honor. And I hope she will insist that her nomination be halted until after the election.

— John Duffy is an English professor at the University of Notre Dame.