Who is Amy Coney Barrett and Why Are People So Worked Up About Her?

Who is Amy Coney Barrett and Why Are People So Worked Up About Her? September 21, 2020

Photo by Claire Anderson on Unsplash

Amy Coney Barrett is a former professor at the University of Notre Dame, a judge on the US District Court of Appeals, and President Trump’s likely pick to replace the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She’s also the single most controversial woman in politics at the moment – despite the fact that, technically, she’s not in politics at all. So why are people so worked up about Amy Coney Barrett? First of all, appointing a Supreme Court Justice this close to the election would be the height of hypocrisy. But there are many reasons why this particular judge has so many people up in arms. They fall into two main categories:

  1. Legitimate Political Concerns
  2. Anti-Catholic Prejudice

The line between these two categories is not as clearly drawn as I would like it to be, but I will do my best to lay it out.

Politics: The Abortion Question

For fifty years, conservatives have dreamed about overturning Roe V. Wade, the landmark decision legalizing abortion nationwide. It’s no secret that President Trump’s rush to fill the empty seat on the court is about pleasing pro-life constituents. There is also no doubt that Amy Coney Barrett is pro-life. She has written about her belief that life begins at conception and has stated that the court’s ruling on Roe “ignited a national controversy” that would have been better handled legislatively.

For those who believe abortion is a fundamental right, it is understandable why a judge like Barrett would be a threatening prospect. What is less understandable is the use of her religion and family lifestyle as fodder for personal attacks.

Faith: The Dogma Lives Loudly

During her confirmation hearing to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Sen. Dianne Feinstein famously stated, “I think in your case, professor… the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern.” This has evolved into a rally cry for conservative Catholics who see religious discrimination everywhere. Let me be clear about one thing: Catholics face very little real religious discrimination in the modern era. However, in Amy Coney Barrett’s specific case, discrimination takes on a unique form. Accusations that she wishes to instill a theocracy in the United States, that she is an integralist, or that she wishes to impose Vatican Rule, feel like something out of the 1940’s, when anti-Catholic bias was real and prevalent in daily life.

Fundamentally, these concerns stem from the belief that, as a deeply Catholic woman, Barrett cannot help but try to impose her religious beliefs on other people. There is simply no evidence from her career that this is the case. So, in order to justify these concerns, critics turn to her lifestyle. Amy Coney Barrett is the mother of seven children (gasp) and a member of People of Praise.

What is People of Praise?

People of Praise, a charismatic ecumenical group founded in South Bend that some claim is a cult. I’m going to be very open about this one: I am really not a fan of People of Praise. It’s also not a cult. It’s not even a religion. Amy Coney Barrett is Roman Catholic and she’s a member of a Christian organization that meets regularly to pray together, that pools finances to support each other, and often live together or near each other.

I went to college in South Bend and I knew people who were members or former members of People of Praise. Those I knew who left had some bad experiences, which I’m not going to relate because they’re not my stories. Basically, the group got way too involved in people’s personal lives. But there was nothing illegal they reported, and no instances of abuse. When families wanted to leave they simply left. Those who were in People of Praise genuinely loved it. I thought it was strange, but living semi-communally and creating a sort of chosen family of prayer and support isn’t insidious behavior – or even particularly conservative in nature. Allegations that People of Praise is a Catholic extremist organization are frankly the stuff of Dan Brown novels.

Do I Support Amy Coney Barrett?

I think it would be wrong for President Trump to appoint a Justice to the Supreme Court this close to the election. For this reason, I’d personally oppose virtually anyone he nominated. (Not that private citizens get a vote in these cases, of course.) That said, I think we could do a lot worse than Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court. By all accounts she is intelligent, fair, and has a strong moral compass. And I agree: abortion should be dealt with legislatively, not through the courts.


Emily Claire Schmitt is a playwright and screenwriter focused on uncovering the mystical in the modern world. She is a Core Member of The Skeleton Rep(resents). All opinions are her own unless she has recently changed them. Follow her on Twitter at @Eclaire082. You can read more about the author here.
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