Oct. 20, 2020
The slogan, born out of the #MeToo movement, was a common refrain during the Senate Judiciary hearings in September 2018 leading up to Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court of the United States. Some even inserted an “all” to make it “Believe all women.” Essentially, the message of “Believe women” was to forsake bias and take women at their word.
During the confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett last week, the “Believe women” refrain was absent. Maybe it shouldn’t have been. Not because any women were accusing the nominee of sexual misconduct (there are no such allegations against Barrett) but because time and again, the Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary—as well as members of the media—refused to take the judge at her word.
Not only did they often refuse to believe Barrett, but numerous journalists and political pundits also violated a list of rules for reporting on female candidates for public office that a coalition of powerful, progressive women had sent to the news media ahead of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s announcement of his vice-presidential running mate. The list of sexist pitfalls to avoid included:
- Reporting on a woman’s ambition
- Reporting on a woman’s likability
- Reporting on a woman’s appearance or tone of voice
- Reporting on doubts about a woman’s qualifications, despite her being equally or more qualified than her male peers
Each of the rules listed above were broken during the Barrett confirmation process. This not only reveals inconsistencies between the way the media chooses to report about men and women, but it also reveals inconsistencies between the way the ideological Left insists women ought to be treated and how some of their own number treat more moderate and conservative-minded women. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, tweeted in support of Barrett, alleging that the left “doesn’t like women that have their own mind” and said that Barrett is attacked and denigrated because she does not fit their idea of a “perfect woman.”
Here are five ways the ideological Left’s handling of the Barrett hearings exposes their hypocritical inclination to believe and empower only certain women—those who conform to their ideology.
#1: By Not Taking Her at Her Word
At confirmation hearings, the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee question judicial nominees under oath. This is so the Senate can better fulfill its constitutional “advice and consent” role.
Confirmation hearings are meant to entail thorough questioning. But Judiciary Democrats seemed determined to disbelieve Judge Barrett from the start. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) implied that Barrett was dishonestly concealing her personal pro-life beliefs by not including two pro-life petitions that she had signed as a member of her church in her initial 1,800-page disclosure (she included these in her supplemental disclosures, which are common to have). Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) doubted whether anyone could ascertain Barrett’s intentions from her sworn statements at the hearings, saying “the only way for the American people to figure out how you might rule is to follow your record and follow the tracks.” Committee members repeatedly asked Barrett if she had any understandings or made any deals with the president, such as voting to end the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or overturn Roe v. Wade. Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) implied Barrett might act as a pawn of the president when she asked whether the judge’s piece commenting on the ACA was a signal for Trump to pick her. Each of the numerous times these doubts were raised, Barrett stressed her judicial independence, personal integrity, and commitment to the rule of law:
I have not made any commitments or deals or anything like that. I’m not here on a mission to destroy the Affordable Care Act. I’m just here to apply the law and adhere to the rule of law.
I have no mission and no agenda. Judges don't have campaign promises.
Regarding her integrity as a judge:
I certainly hope that all members of the committee have more confidence in my integrity than to think that I would allow myself to be used as a pawn to decide the election for the American people.
I do assure you of my integrity.
Those who know Judge Barrett best professionally describe her as someone deserving of being taken at her word. Patricia O’Hara, professor emerita at Notre Dame Law School, introduced Barrett at the confirmation hearings, describing her as “fair and impartial.” On the final day of hearings, Laura Wolk, a former student of Barrett’s at Notre Dame and the first blind female Supreme Court clerk, testified on her mentor’s behalf, hailing her as eminently trustworthy: “She is a woman of her word. She means what she says, and she says what she means. When she promised to advocate for me, she commanded my trust.”
During Barrett’s hearings, it was clear that Judiciary Democrats either doubted the judge’s veracity under oath or simply didn’t want to believe her.
#2: By Implying She Doesn’t Have Her Own Mind
Opponents to Judge Barrett’s nomination have had the audacity to imply that she wouldn’t be making her own decisions on the bench. They seem to imagine her functioning as a sort of pawn or proxy “doing the bidding” of a man calling the shots (pick one: the president, her husband, her late mentor Antonin Scalia, the Pope). Insinuations of this nature are highly insulting, as they willfully ignore Barrett’s stellar qualifications as a judge, misunderstand her faith, and disbelieve her own statements under oath that she is intellectually independent and not beholden to anyone or anything but the Constitution. So much for “believing women.”
During day three of the confirmation hearings, Barrett acknowledged that she shares Justice’s Scalia’s judicial philosophy of originalism and textualism. However, she had to clarify multiple times that she should not be mistaken for a carbon copy of Scalia who would always rule in the same manner that he did. As she told Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) (emphasis added):
I do share Justice Scalia’s approach to text, originalism and textualism. But in the litany of cases that you’ve just identified, the particular votes that he cast are a different question of whether I would agree with the way that he applied those principles in particular cases. And I’ve already said, and I hope that you aren’t suggesting that I don't have my own mind or that I couldn’t think independently or that I would just decide “let me see what Justice Scalia has said about this in the past,” because I assure you I have my own mind. But everything that he said is not necessarily what I would agree with or what I would do if I were Justice Barrett. That was Justice Scalia. So, I share his philosophy, but I have never said that I would always reach the same outcome as he did.
Barrett intelligently responded to Judiciary Committee questioning for hours over the course of two days with absolutely no notes in front of her, an impressive feat that few people could match. Those doubting her knowledge, independence, and competence embarrass themselves.
#3: By Objecting To Her Career Success and Aspirations as “Ambition”
The Washington Post ran a story that described Judge Barrett as “unleashing her ambition,” while Slate disparaged her as “a shameless, cynical careerist who believes nobody can stop her.” The article continued, “what’s wrong with Barrett isn’t that she’s too pious, or that she’s submissive in her personal life. It’s that she’s bent on making herself one of the nine most powerful judges in the country.”
It’s hard to imagine such statements being made about a male nominee or a female nominee whose judicial philosophy and policy positions more closely align with the Left. Indeed, the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been lauded for her “trailblazing career” and breaking the glass ceiling. It begs the question: why would it be wrong for any woman, especially one as qualified as Barrett, to aspire to sit on the Supreme Court? Furthermore, it’s unclear how Barrett fits the description of “ambitious” besides being so good at her job that someone else noticed and nominated her for the Supreme Court.
Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), a member of the Judiciary Committee and a military veteran, tweeted in response to the Slate article:
This is the kind of sexist garbage women have been dealing with for far too long. Women can be anything we want to be: a farmer, a military officer, a Senator, and yes even a Supreme Court Justice.
#4: By Judging Her by Her Appearance (to a degree that wouldn’t be done to her male peers)
The clothes Barrett wore to her confirmation hearings were neat, professional, and stylish. They looked an awful lot like the clothes countless other professional women on Capitol Hill wear. A male nominee comparatively well-dressed would not have garnered the reactions Barrett’s choice of clothing elicited. And women the Left loves—like Michelle Obama—are praised for their fashion sense. But even something as innocuous as clothes was seized upon by Barrett’s critics as an opportunity to disparage her.
The Daily Beast published an entire article centered on the dress Judge Barrett wore on day one of the confirmation hearings (and no, it wasn’t about where to buy it or “how to copy her look”). The author interpreted Barrett’s choice of clothing as a calculated distraction, saying her dress “projected capability and congeniality” while she did “the bidding” of the president. Here we have a sexist one-two punch of hyper-focusing on a woman’s clothing choice and portraying her as a mindless sycophant, despite abundant evidence to the contrary.
Barrett’s critics have embraced the demeaning caricature of her as a subservient “handmaiden” à la The Handmaid’s Tale. Former congresswoman Katie Hill thought she saw evidence of this false caricature represented in Barrett’s clothing, tweeting on day three of the hearings: “I hate to be someone who judges women on their clothes but I’m sorry ACB’s outfits are all way too handmaids-y.” Hill later deleted the tweet after negative response. Senator Ernst once again tweeted in Barrett’s defense:
The liberal left is attacking Judge Barrett in this way because they can’t attack her on her qualifications or character. No woman should have to deal with this kind of blatant sexism.
#5: By Questioning Her Ability To Parent and Do Her Job
Some on the ideological Left questioned whether Judge Barrett could handle being “a loving, present mom” and a Supreme Court justice. It’s highly doubtful that anyone has ever questioned a male Supreme Court nominee’s ability to be a loving, present father. If a more progressively-minded judge were being nominated for the Court, would the media express comparable concern for her school-aged children? It’s hard to say since Barrett is the first such mother of school-aged children to be nominated.
Slate described Barrett’s inspirational story as “a trap” to trick women into thinking that they “can have it all” and don’t need abortion in order to succeed. On the contrary, more women need to be shown that they shouldn’t have to abort their children in order to have a fulfilling life or career. Barrett might seem like a unicorn for now, but only because she’s blazing a path for other women to follow.
A True Role Model
Justice Ginsburg recalled being asked when she thought there would be enough women on the Supreme Court. Her reply? “When there are nine … There’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” This famous quote by Ginsburg has been hailed by her admirers and many on the ideological Left. Yet, when a conservative woman is nominated to the Court, it is clear that they would prefer a male judge who shares their ideology than a conservative female judge who has sworn that she will interpret the law rather than legislate from the bench.
Judge Amy Coney Barrett is highly qualified to sit on the Supreme Court. Instead of the inconsequential—and, at times, sexist—things her critics have harped on, consider this list of accomplishments and accolades. In other words, things that truly matter:
- First in her class at Notre Dame Law School, where she was executive editor of the Notre Dame Law Review
- Clerked for Judge Laurence H. Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and for Associate Justice Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court
- Worked as an associate at Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin and then at Baker Botts in Washington, D.C.
- Former visiting associate professor and John M. Olin Fellow in Law at the George Washington University Law School
- Former visiting associate professor of law at the University of Virginia
- Professor of law at Notre Dame Law School
- Member of the American Law Institute (ALI)
- Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
- Endorsed by all of her fellow Notre Dame law professors in 2017
- Endorsed by all of her fellow 1998 Supreme Court clerks in 2017
- Rated by the American Bar Association as “well qualified” to serve on the Supreme Court
Patricia O’Hara of Notre Dame Law School summed up Barrett as a judge thus: “In her three years as a judge on the Seventh Circuit, her opinions have been characterized by the same quality as her scholarship -- intellectual rigor, painstaking analysis, clarity of legal reasoning and writing. Accompanied by her deep commitment as a jurist to apply the law to the facts before her.”
Throughout her life and career, Barrett has exemplified what we should want in a Supreme Court nominee. What would this confirmation process have been like if everyone had spent less time analyzing her wardrobe and more time looking at her qualifications and taking her at her word? I guess we’ll never know.
Ideological progressives and the media talk a big talk of “believing women” and empowering them. But their treatment of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett in recent days signals to more moderate and conservative-minded women that progressives only believe and empower certain women who fit their preferred mold, to the exclusion of others.
However, to the thousands of women who don’t fit this preferred mold, Judge Barrett truly is a role model.