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Amy Coney Barrett represents the best and worst of Notre Dame

| Friday, October 2, 2020

Amy Coney Barrett is, ostensibly, a very intelligent and principled individual. She also strikes great disappointment and shame in me as a Notre Dame student and prospective lawyer. 

Over the last few days, Notre Dame has been invoked alongside Barrett’s name. Her graduation at the top of her class in 1997 is used to justify her possible ascendency to the Supreme Court. The fact that our University’s name is being used to legitimize Barrett’s nomination strikes me as nothing short of reprehensible. 

Notre Dame is a really special place for me. As an institution, Notre Dame and her supporters have aided me as a queer and displaced student. I have seen what the Notre Dame community embodies: an unyielding effort to spread kindness and uplift human dignity, even across ideological or theological lines. Now, our University President is signaling support for Barrett in a way that only denigrates our reputation and our relationship with healthy democracy. 

Before Trump’s presidency, political commentators maintained that our government’s system of checks and balances would prevent any real destruction by Trump to political order. This has proved to be patently false. Trump has refused to submit to subpoenas, used the Department of Justice to defend him in personal cases, withheld foreign aid to bribe foreign officials, enabled foreign interference in our elections and generally subverted any attempt to hold him accountable to the laws of our nation. 

So what happens when someone like Barrett — “the best student, the smartest and most talented person to ever come through the University of Notre Dame Law School,” — decides to play ball with a proto-fascist president? What happens when our nation’s best and brightest conservative jurists are complicit in an egregiously hypocritical power grab? Isn’t an appointed judge like Barrett herself supposed to be a check on Trump’s illiberal regime?

You might be asking, “Is this really a power grab, or is Trump just doing his job?” The answer, of course, is that Trump and Mitch McConnell know exactly what they’re doing by rushing Barrett’s nomination in the days before the upcoming election. Republicans know that their chances of retaining their Senate majority are slim to none. This may be their only chance to appoint an originalist judge for decades, and in doing so they will dramatically alter the composition of our nation’s highest court, thereby allowing conservatives to force their conception of the law on a population that is increasingly liberal. This is likewise a power grab by Trump in the sense that he is hedging his chances of a decision in his favor should a contested election go to the Supreme Court. 

Notre Dame graduates ought to advance the national good, as chosen by the will of the nation. By accepting Trump’s nomination at this particular point in time, Barrett is complicit in and even enabling an anti-democratic power grab by Trump. Her actions go against the very core of our duty as graduates of Notre Dame. We ought to uphold certain principles like “integrity … justice and service to society,” as Fr. Jenkins aptly put it. But does a person of “integrity” snatch power to advance her fringe conception of the law? Do people who believe in justice deliberately undermine the credibility of the judiciary? Do people who “serve society” spurn the will of the majority of the American people to delay this appointment until after the election? 

If you, like me, believe that a highly intelligent, principled and “immensely fair” Notre Dame graduate and professor should serve on our nation’s highest court, then Amy Coney Barrett — at this juncture in time — is not that person. Amy Coney Barrett represents a reprehensible alliance with Trump and a disdain for American democracy. In short, she represents the worst of Notre Dame. 

David Phillips


Sep. 27


The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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