If President Trump nominates Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, the federal judge can expect her second bruising round of confirmation hearings in less than a year and more of what supporters call “unfair criticisms” about her faith.
Barrett, 46, is one of six judges Trump has already interviewed to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on the bench. She is a federal appeals court judge who was appointed by Trump in 2017. Her Senate confirmation was anything but easy as she was grilled by Democrats about her religious background.
She once told a 2006 Notre Dame Law School graduating class that their “legal career is but a means to an end, and … that end is building the kingdom of God. … If you can keep in mind that your fundamental purpose in life is not to be a lawyer, but to know, love and serve God, you truly will be a different kind of lawyer.”
“The dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said during the September 2017 hearing.
When Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. asked if she was an “orthodox Catholic” — a term used in a paper she co-authored two decades before — Barrett clarified she is a “faithful Catholic” but would “stress my personal church affiliation or my religious belief would not bear on the discharge of my duties as a judge.”
After Barrett’s hearing, Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber said he was “deeply concerned by the harsh and often unfair criticisms that are now routinely levelled from both sides of the political spectrum against distinguished judicial nominees who would serve this country honorably and well,” including Barrett. He urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to “refrain from interrogating nominees about the religious or spiritual foundations of their jurisprudential views.”
Barrett’s connections to a charismatic organization, the People of Praise, has also come under fire, especially as she’s made it onto the short list of the president’s Supreme Court picks. Barrett’s critics have called the group a “cult” and believe it could cloud her judgment on the nation’s highest court.
Barrett was also a trustee of the Trinity School, an education program founded by the People of Praise, from 2015 to 2017.
Read on for a look at the People of Praise and how Barrett fits into the group.
So what is the People of Praise?
On its website, the People of Praise bills itself as a “Christian community of families and single people who seek to participate in the mission of the church in our time and to live our lives communally until the day when Jesus will be all in all.”
It has members of many denominations, although the majority are Catholic.
The religious group also says it understands it can be difficult for some people to understand as “we are a community that defies categories.”
When Barrett’s involvement with the group first drew criticism in 2017, Craig S. Lent, a People of Praise leader and University of Notre Dame professor, defended it as something that’s not “nefarious or controversial.”
“We don’t try to control people,” he told The New York Times. “And there’s never any guarantee that the leader is always right. You have to discern and act in the Lord.”
Aside from its schools, the People of Praise also does mission work, especially in low-income or high-crime neighborhoods in Indiana.
What is this about ‘handmaids’?
According to The Times, male leaders in the group are referred to as “heads” and women are called “handmaids.” But Lent said the group has decided to use “woman leader” instead of handmaid in recent years.
“We follow the New Testament pattern of asking men to take on some spiritual responsibility for their families,” Lent said.
Is it political?
Bishop Peter Smith, an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Portland, Oregon, told the Catholic News Agency (CNA) the group is non-partisan.
“I know for a fact there are both registered Republicans and Democrats as well as independents in the People of Praise,” Smith said. He is a part of the Brotherhood of the People of Praise, which CNA said is an association of priests who are connected to the organization.
Lent also told The New York Times the group would never tell a person in a political or judicial office “how to discharge their responsibilities.”
How does one join the group?
One can join the People of Praise after what it calls “an initial period of discernment and preparation” — something that can take as long as six years. After that, an individual is asked to make a covenant of a “promise of love and service to fellow community members and to God.”
The covenant is not an oath or a vow, meaning it is not permanent.
How did it get its start?
The People of Praise began in 1971 in South Bend, Indiana, according to its website. Many of its founders were associated with the University of Notre Dame, the Catholic college where Barrett both studied and taught.
Now, there are 22 locations across the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean, according to its website. It boasts nearly 2,000 adult members.
What does this mean for Barrett?
Christians and conservatives have rushed to Barrett’s defense in wake of her reported inclusion on Trump’s short list for the Supreme Court.
Mona Charen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, wrote, “If Barrett is a glazed-eyed cultist, she’s done an incredible job of hiding it.” The Washington Examiner’s Becket Adams called the judge “the sort of person who pro-abortion advocates and other left-leaning activists would do and say anything to block from taking a Supreme Court seat.”
In a column for Bloomberg, Ramesh Ponnuru implored the president to pick Barrett.
“If Democrats want to make a case against Barrett’s religion again, but with the added publicity a Supreme Court nomination would bring, it probably would not play better,” Ponnuru said.
Catholic League President Bill Donohue said Feinstein and Durbin should recuse themselves from the vote if Barrett is Trump’s pick because of their “anti-Catholic bias.”
“Not to do so would be intellectually dishonest and patently unfair to Judge Barrett,” Donohue said.
Barrett’s faith could pose a challenge to future court decisions regarding abortion, a practice that most Christians and Catholics are fundamentally opposed to.
On the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion, Barrett has said, “I’m sure every nominee before you would have personal beliefs about that precedent and many others. But all nominees are united in their belief that what they think about a precedent should not bear on how they will decide cases.”
Two years ago, just before the presidential election, she said she didn’t think that the “core case” of Roe v. Wade would be overturned.
“I think the question of whether people can get late-term abortions — how many restrictions can be put on clinics — I don’t think that will change,” she said.
She described abortion as “always immoral” on a White House questionnaire last year. But she said then, “If I am confirmed, my views on this or any other question will have no bearing on the discharge of my duties as a judge.”
Fox News’ Bill Mears, Alex Pappas and The Associated Press contributed to this report.