Amy Coney Barrett and the “Kingdom of God”

Notre Dame Law School professor Amy Coney Barrett is on Donald Trump’s short list to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Trump met with Barrett yesterday.

Back in September 2017, I called your attention to political philosopher Bill McCormack’s piece at America. Read that post here.

I also wrote about California Senator Diane Feinstein’s claim that “dogma lives loudly” in Barrett. Read that post here. In that post I republished Notre Dame president John Jenkins’s letter to Feinstein. Here it is again:

Dear Senator Feinstein:

Considering your questioning of my colleague Amy Coney Barrett during the judicial confirmation hearing of September 6, I write to express my confidence in her competence and character, and deep concern at your line of questioning.

Professor Barrett has been a member of our faculty since 2002, and is a graduate of our law school. Her experience as a clerk for Judge Laurence Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is of the highest order. So, too, is her scholarship in the areas of federal courts, constitutional law and statutory interpretation. I am not a legal scholar, but I have heard no one seriously challenge her impeccable legal credentials.

Your concern, as you expressed it, is that “dogma lives loudly in [Professor Barrett], and that is a concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.” I am one in whose heart “dogma lives loudly,” as it has for centuries in the lives of many Americans, some of whom have given their lives in service to this nation. Indeed, it lived loudly in the hearts of those who founded our nation as one where citizens could practice their faith freely and without apology.

Professor Barrett has made it clear that she would “follow unflinchingly” all legal precedent and, in rare cases in which her conscience would not allow her to do so, she would recuse herself. I can assure you that she is a person of integrity who acts in accord with the principles she articulates.

It is chilling to hear from a United States Senator that this might now disqualify someone from service as a federal judge. I ask you and your colleagues to respect those in whom “dogma lives loudly”—which is a condition we call faith. For the attempt to live such faith while one upholds the law should command respect, not evoke concern.

Now Barrett is getting criticism for a remark she made about the “Kingdom of God.”

Christian conservatives like Barrett are not the only public figures who talk about the Kingdom of God.

Obama said this on the presidential campaign trail in 2007. At the 2011 National Prayer Breakfast, Obama said:

My Christian faith, then, has been a sustaining force for me over these last few years,” Obama said. “All the more so, when Michelle and I hear our faith questioned from time to time, we are reminded that ultimately what matters is not what other people say about us but whether we’re being true to our conscience and true to our God. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Jimmy Carter also believes that Christians should be working to promote the Kingdom of God. Here is an interview with NPR in which he talks about “God’s Kingdom on Earth.”

All Christians believe in some version of the “Kingdom of God.” Students of American religious history know that this phrase has been used just as much by Christians on the left as on the right. The idea of ushering in the Kingdom of God was at the heart of the early 20th-century movement known as the “Social Gospel,” a form of Christianity committed to bringing faith to bear on matters of poverty, racism, and other forms of injustice. In fact, the social gospelers talked about bringing God’s kingdom to earth a whole lot more than the Protestant fundamentalists. Most conservative Protestants in the early 20th-century showed little concern for social issues. They just wanted to get people “saved” and ready for the rapture.

But how does Amy Barrett use the phrase “Kingdom of God?” The source of all the controversy today comes from a 2006 commencement address to the graduates of Notre Dame Law School. You can read that address here. A taste:

Sometimes we’re tempted to say that a Notre Dame lawyer is a different kind of lawyer because he or she is an ethical lawyer. But that can’t be right. Our profession is in pretty deep trouble if the only ethical lawyer is the different one. When you leave here, hold yourselves to the highest ethical standards, and be leaders in that regard. But maintaining high ethical standards ought to be something that characterizes our whole profession—not something that causes Notre Dame lawyers to stand apart.

So if being a different kind of lawyer is not defined by the body of knowledge you have mastered or by the ethical standards you are expected to maintain, might it be defined by the kind of law you choose to practice? The banner hanging in the main reading room says, “If you want peace, work for justice.” Surely we can expect that, as a Catholic law school, our commitment to social justice will lead a higher-than-average percentage of you to choose to work on behalf of the disadvantaged and oppressed. We can expect Notre Dame lawyers like my own classmate, Sean Litton, who left a successful and lucrative practice at Kirkland & Ellis to work for a human rights organization with the mission of eliminating sexual trafficking in southeast Asia. Many of you, like my classmate Sean, will work in the public interest sector, and Notre Dame will be proud of you. But many of you will work in the private sector, and Notre Dame will be proud of you too. It cannot be that being a different kind of lawyer is defined by the kind of law one practices, for that would leave too many of our graduates out of the definition.

So what then, does it mean to be a different kind of lawyer? The implications of our Catholic mission for your legal education are many, and don’t worry—I’m not going to explore them all in this short speech. I’m just going to identify one way in which I hope that you, as graduates of Notre Dame, will fulfill the promise of being a different kind of lawyer. And that is this: that you will always keep in mind that your legal career is but a means to an end, and as Father Jenkins told you this morning, that end is building the kingdom of God. You know the same law, are charged with maintaining the same ethical standards, and will be entering the same kinds of legal jobs as your peers across the country. But 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.

As she closes her speech, Barrett encourages the graduates of this Catholic law school to:

  1. Pray about their calling as lawyers
  2. Give a percentage of their salaries to the church and other charitable causes
  3. Seek a Christian community that will assist them in advance their calling as agents of the kingdom of God.

I have written a lot at this blog about the “Kingdom of God.” My understanding of the meaning of this phrase is very similar to Barrett. While some might use the phrase “Kingdom of God” to promote some kind of theocratic takeover of government, this is not how most Christians use the term.

Christians believe that the Kingdom of God was initiated when Jesus died and rose from the dead. We still live in a broken world, but we get occasional glimpses of the new creative order–the coming Kingdom– when we see acts of compassion, justice, reconciliation, mercy, and love.  Moreover, when we creative work that is good, beautiful, or based in truth we are, in some small way, building this new kingdom. A longing for this kingdom is at the center of Christian hope. This is why we pray as Jesus taught us: “They Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Here is Oxford University historian and theologian N.T. Wright from his book Surprised by Hope:

But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the kingdom. This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 15:58 once more: what you do in the Lord is not in vain.  You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire.  You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site.  You are–strange though is may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself–accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world.  Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness, every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world–all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.

Here is Wright again:

What you do in the present–by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself–will last into God’s future.  These activities are not simply ways of making the present life less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we will leave it behind altogether (as the hymn  so mistakenly puts it, “Until that day when all the blest to endless rest are called away”). They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”

The practice of the law is a way in which Christians can live-out their callings as faithful members of the God’s Kingdom. This is what Barrett was telling the graduates of Notre Dame law school.

The real question is whether or not Barrett, if nominated and confirmed, would confuse the Kingdom of God with her responsibility to interpret the law of the United States of America. They are not the same thing.

This clip has some of Barrett’s 2018 responses to the questions of Democratic Senators during her confirmation hearings. I’d recommend stopping it at about the 2:37 mark.

UPDATE: I just read Jack Jenkins’s piece on this at Religion News Service. It includes several quotes from Catholic theologians and other experts claiming that it is perfectly fine for Senators to ask Barrett if and how her faith will shape her legal decisions as a Supreme Court justice.

What They Knew and When They Knew It

Burr and Loeffler

Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina and Senator Kelly Loeffler of Georgia sat next to each other during the Donald Trump Senate impeachment trial. Burr is currently using this sketch as his Twitter profile picture.

We now know that both Burr, who serves as the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Loeffler, whose husband is the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, sold millions of dollars in stocks before the economic downturn precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Here is a taste of Robert Faturechi’s and Derek Willis’s reporting at ProPublica:

Soon after he offered public assurances that the government was ready to battle the coronavirus, the powerful chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, sold off a significant percentage of his stocks, unloading between $628,000 and $1.72 million of his holdings on Feb. 13 in 33 separate transactions.

As the head of the intelligence committee, Burr, a North Carolina Republican, has access to the government’s most highly classified information about threats to America’s security. His committee was receiving daily coronavirus briefings around this time, according to a Reuters story.

A week after Burr’s sales, the stock market began a sharp decline and has lost about 30% since.

On Thursday, Burr came under fire after NPR obtained a secret recording from Feb. 27, in which the lawmaker gave a VIP group at an exclusive social club a much more dire preview of the economic impact of the coronavirus than what he had told the public.

Read the entire piece here.

Here is Lachlan Markay, William Brederman, and Sam Brodey of The Daily Beast:

The Senate’s newest member sold off seven figures worth of stock holdings in the days and weeks after a private, all-senators meeting on the novel coronavirus that subsequently hammered U.S. equities.

Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) reported the first sale of stock jointly owned by her and her husband on Jan. 24, the very day that her committee, the Senate Health Committee, hosted a private, all-senators briefing from administration officials, including the CDC director and Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institutes of Health of the United States, on the coronavirus. 

“Appreciate today’s briefing from the President’s top health officials on the novel coronavirus outbreak,” she tweeted about the briefing at the time.

That first transaction was a sale of stock in the company Resideo Technologies worth between $50,001 and $100,000. The company’s stock price has fallen by more than half since then, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average overall has shed approximately 10,000 points, dropping about a third of its value.

It was the first of 29 stock transactions that Loeffler and her husband made through mid-February, all but two of which were sales. One of Loeffler’s two purchases was stock worth between $100,000 and $250,000 in Citrix, a technology company that offers teleworking software and which has seen a small bump in its stock price since Loeffler bought in as a result of coronavirus-induced market turmoil.

Loeffler’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the transactions and whether they were prompted or informed by information shared at that late January briefing. It’s illegal for members of Congress to trade on non-public information gleaned through their official duties. 

In the weeks after her spate of stock trades, Loeffler sought to downplay the public health and financial threats posed by the coronavirus. 

“Democrats have dangerously and intentionally misled the American people on #Coronavirus readiness,” she tweeted on February 28. “Here’s the truth: @realDonaldTrump & his administration are doing a great job working to keep Americans healthy & safe.”

Read the entire piece here.

Both of these Senators knew things about the coronavirus that the general public did not.  They did not tell us. And they profited (or at least avoided an economic hit) based on what they knew.

At a time when we need to sacrifice self-interest for the common good, these two Senators seem to be taking care of themselves first.

Here is the author (Hamilton or Madison) of Federalist 62:

The qualifications proposed for senators, as distinguished from those of representatives, consist in a more advanced age and a longer period of citizenship. A senator must be thirty years of age at least; as a representative must be twenty-five. And the former must have been a citizen nine years; as seven years are required for the latter. The propriety of these distinctions is explained by the nature of the senatorial trust, which, requiring greater extent of information and stability of character, requires at the same time that the senator should have reached a period of life most likely to supply these advantages

Here is John Jay in Federalist 64:

As the select assemblies for choosing the President, as well as the State legislatures who appoint the senators, will in general be composed of the most enlightened and respectable citizens, there is reason to presume that their attention and their votes will be directed to those men only who have become the most distinguished by their abilities and virtue, and in whom the people perceive just grounds for confidence. The Constitution manifests very particular attention to this object. By excluding men under thirty-five from the first office, and those under thirty from the second, it confines the electors to men of whom the people have had time to form a judgment, and with respect to whom they will not be liable to be deceived by those brilliant appearances of genius and patriotism, which, like transient meteors, sometimes mislead as well as dazzle. If the observation be well founded, that wise kings will always be served by able ministers, it is fair to argue, that as an assembly of select electors possess, in a greater degree than kings, the means of extensive and accurate information relative to men and characters, so will their appointments bear at least equal marks of discretion and discernment. The inference which naturally results from these considerations is this, that the President and senators so chosen will always be of the number of those who best understand our national interests, whether considered in relation to the several States or to foreign nations, who are best able to promote those interests, and whose reputation for integrity inspires and merits confidence. With such men the power of making treaties may be safely lodged.

And Madison in Federalist #10:

The two great points of difference between a democracy and a republic are: first, the delegation of the government, in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter may be extended.

The effect of the first difference is, on the one hand, to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.

ADDENDUM (Friday, March 21, 2020 at 2:08pm): Since I wrote this post, we have also learned that Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and James Inhofe (R-Okla) have also dumped stock.

Michael Gerson on Dianne Feinstein’s “ignorance of religion itself”

Dianne+Feinstein+Senate+Judiciary+Committee+zsjEg92T4Itl

Washington Post commentator Michael Gerson has joined the list of Dianne Feinstein critics.  In case you are not up to speed, Feinstein appears to have shown anti-Catholic bias in her recent questioning of federal court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.  She may have also violated Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.

We have posted on this case here and here and here and here.

Gerson writes:

Where to start? How about with the fact that Feinstein’s line of questioning was itself a violation of the Constitution? Here is constitutional scholar and Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber: “By prohibiting religious tests, the Constitution makes it impermissible to deny any person a national, state or local office on the basis of their religious convictions or lack thereof. Because religious belief is constitutionally irrelevant to the qualifications for a federal judgeship, the Senate should not interrogate any nominee about those beliefs. I believe, more specifically, that the questions directed to professor Barrett about her faith were not consistent with the principle set forth in the Constitution’s ‘no religious test’ clause.”

How about Feinstein’s indifference to the sordid history of anti-Catholic bias? “Feinstein leapt past 20th-century suspicions of Catholic allegiances,” legal scholar John Inazu told me, “to 19th-century bigotry toward Catholic identity: Who you are as a Catholic is ‘of concern.’ ”

How about Feinstein’s ignorance of religion itself? In defending her animus, she called particular attention to Barrett’s statement that Christians should be “building the kingdom of God.” That would be the kingdom that Jesus insisted is “not of this world,” much to the confusion of 1st-century politicians. It is a description of transformed hearts, not a prescription for theocracy.

Read the entire piece here.

Noah Feldman Calls Diane Feinstein’s Anti-Catholic Questions an “Outrage”

Dianne+Feinstein+Senate+Judiciary+Committee+zsjEg92T4Itl

Noah Feldman, Harvard law professor and Director of the Julius-Rabinowitz Program on Jewish and Israeli Law, is the latest to criticize Dianne Feinstein for her questioning of Trump appellate court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.  He joins Princeton president Christopher Eisgruber and Notre Dame president John Jenkins.

Here is a taste of Feldman’s piece at Bloomberg:

Senator Dianne Feinstein owes a public apology to judicial nominee Amy Coney Barrett — and an explanation to all Americans who condemn religious bias. During Barrett’s confirmation hearings last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Feinstein, the California Democrat, insinuated an anti-Catholic stereotype that goes back at least 150 years in the U.S. — that Catholics are unable to separate church and state because they place their religious allegiances before their oath to the Constitution.

If a Catholic senator had asked a Jewish nominee whether she would put Israel before the U.S., or if a white senator had asked a black nominee if she could be an objective judge given her background, liberals would be screaming bloody murder. Feinstein’s line of questioning, which was taken up by other committee Democrats, is no less an expression of prejudice.

The thrust of Feinstein’s questioning was that, as a believing Catholic, Barrett couldn’t be trusted to apply the Constitution and laws objectively should she be confirmed to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Feinstein repeatedly used a term with a long history as a dog whistle for anti-Catholicism in America: dogma. “The dogma lives loudly within you,” Feinstein asserted. She went on: “Dogma and law are two different things. I think whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different.”

And the senator topped it off with a classic form of bias: the irrefutable imputation. “Why is it that so many of us on this side have this very uncomfortable feeling?” she asked.

The word “dogma” that Feinstein deployed is specifically connected to the Protestant critique of Catholicism, and to its particularly nasty American version. A dogma is an article of faith laid down by an authority. One of the classic Protestant polemical attacks on Catholicism was the allegation that Catholics are obligated to believe what the church teaches them is incontrovertibly true, whereas Protestants are called on to form their own beliefs on the basis of individual faith and judgment.

Read the entire piece here.

I think this is less a case of Feinstein trying to deliberately practice anti-Catholicism and more a sign that she is clueless on these matters.  This is sad coming from a Stanford history major.  Having said, Feinstein does not seem to have learned her lessons well at Stanford, as evidenced by this exchange with Eric Foner.

Notre Dame President: “Dogma Lives Loudly”

Barrett

You may recall our recent post on Princeton University president Christopher L. Eisgruber’s criticism of the Democratic Senators who may have violated Article VI of the Constitution in their questioning of University of Notre Dame Professor Amy Barrett during her recent confirmation hearings for a federal judgeship.

Over the last several days, a host of smart people have joined Eisgruber in his criticism of Diane Feinstein, Dick Durbin, and Al Franken.  The latest is Notre Dame president John Jenkins.  Here is the bulk of his letter to Feinstein:

Dear Senator Feinstein:

Considering your questioning of my colleague Amy Coney Barrett during the judicial confirmation hearing of September 6, I write to express my confidence in her competence and character, and deep concern at your line of questioning.

Professor Barrett has been a member of our faculty since 2002, and is a graduate of our law school. Her experience as a clerk for Judge Laurence Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is of the highest order. So, too, is her scholarship in the areas of federal courts, constitutional law and statutory interpretation. I am not a legal scholar, but I have heard no one seriously challenge her impeccable legal credentials.

Your concern, as you expressed it, is that “dogma lives loudly in [Professor Barrett], and that is a concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.” I am one in whose heart “dogma lives loudly,” as it has for centuries in the lives of many Americans, some of whom have given their lives in service to this nation. Indeed, it lived loudly in the hearts of those who founded our nation as one where citizens could practice their faith freely and without apology.

Professor Barrett has made it clear that she would “follow unflinchingly” all legal precedent and, in rare cases in which her conscience would not allow her to do so, she would recuse herself. I can assure you that she is a person of integrity who acts in accord with the principles she articulates.

It is chilling to hear from a United States Senator that this might now disqualify someone from service as a federal judge. I ask you and your colleagues to respect those in whom “dogma lives loudly”—which is a condition we call faith. For the attempt to live such faith while one upholds the law should command respect, not evoke concern.

Many people have defended the Senators’ line of questioning, including some of the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  They say that if the faith of a religious judge is going to result in taking away the rights of others, then asking questions about religious belief is perfectly fair.  Some can get quite passionate about it.  But the bottom line is this:  The people who have interpreted this line of questioning as a possible violation of Article VI are no intellectual slouches. They also represent, to one degree or another, a significant portion of the American electorate.

This debate over religious liberty and test oaths reveals the deep divide in this country right now.  What makes this so intense is the fact that both sides of the debate appeal to American ideals–religious liberty, individual rights, and the disestablishment of religion, to name only a few.  I am not sure how these social issues can be resolved as long as people like Franken, Durbin, Feinstein, Sanders, the authors of the Nashville Statement, the court evangelicals, and many others continue to dig-in their heels.

Princeton University’s President on the Democrats’ Religious Tests for Public Office

I saw this today at Alan Jacobs’s blog Snakes and Ladders:

I write, as a university president and a constitutional scholar with expertise on religious freedom and judicial appointments, to express concern about questions addressed to Professor Amy Barrett during her confirmation hearings and to urge that the Committee on the Judiciary refrain from interrogating nominees about the religious or spiritual foundations of their jurisprudential views. Article VI of the United States Constitution provides explicitly that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” This bold endorsement of religious freedom was among the original Constitution’s most pathbreaking provisions. The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Torcaso v. Watkins (1961), holding that the First and Fourteenth Amendments render this principle applicable to state offices and that it protects non-believers along with believers of all kinds, is among the greatest landmarks in America’s jurisprudence of religious freedom. Article VI’s prohibition of religious tests is a critical guarantee of equality and liberty, and it is part of what should make all of us proud to be Americans.

By prohibiting religious tests, the Constitution makes it impermissible to deny any person a national, state, or local office on the basis of their religious convictions or lack thereof. Because religious belief is constitutionally irrelevant to the qualifications for a federal judgeship, the Senate should not interrogate any nominee about those beliefs. I believe, more specifically, that the questions directed to Professor Barrett about her faith were not consistent with the principle set forth in the Constitution’s “no religious test” clause.

Source

 

Here is Al Franken:

I should add that the Blackstone Legal Fellowship has an advisory board that includes law professors from  University of Texas, University of Nebraska, Harvard (Mary Ann Glendon), Princeton (Robert George), and Notre Dame.

Here is Diane Feinstein:

Here is Dick Durbin:

And let’s not forget Bernie Sanders from earlier this year:

Here is Emma Green’s reporting on this at The Atlantic.