Judge Amy Coney Barrett has done a fine job of acting at her confirmation hearings to become a U.S. Supreme Court justice. She has played the role of a reasoned jurist who is not the extremist anti-choice zealot that we all can plainly see she is.
But the Oscar for Best Supporting Bad Actor will likely go to Senator Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, the youngest and arguably most dangerous member of the U.S. Senate. Hawley is on the short list of 2024 candidates to carry the mantle for the Republican Party’s fanatical right wing.
The hearings had barely begun when Hawley spewed outright lies about how the Democrats were on a mission from hell to denigrate and ridicule Barrett’s Roman Catholic faith.
In a moment for the ages in the annals of straw-man demagoguery. Hawley falsely accused Democrats of anti-Catholic bigotry in advance of their questioning of Barrett. Hawley, an Evangelical, conveniently ignored the fact that five of the Supreme Court’s justice are practicing Catholics (and a sixth, Neil Gorsuch, was raised as one).
“This pattern and practice religious bigotry by Democrats on the committee must stop!” bellowed Hawley, ignoring the detail it hadn’t started. In fact, no Democrat went anywhere near the subject of Barrett’s religious views, nor did they intend to fall into the clumsily placed trap Republicans were trying to set.
That didn’t prevent Hawley from earning a state-TV victory tour, where no less than Tucker Carlson, the Grand Guru of Grievance, wept along with Hawley’s passionate pleas for the Devil Democrats to call off their unholy crusade to bring down God. The irony of doing the dirty work of heathen Donald Trump in the name of the Divine, went unnoticed.
Hawley validated Esquire Magazine’s January description of him as “the thirstiest man in Washington D.C.” As that article had noted, “the most dangerous place to stand in Washington D.C. is any place between Senator Josh Hawley and a live microphone.”
The fiasco was rooted in Barrett’s 2017 Senate hearings to become a federal appeals-court judge. Among her unapologetic instances of publicly associating faith and law, Barrett had co-authored a 1998 law review article “Catholic Judges in Capital Cases.”
Since Barrett was passionately and publicly an anti-choice extremist, it wasn’t exactly a stretch for senators to wonder how her faith might inform her judicial temperament. That felt mostly to pro-choice Democrats, but there also was a skeptic from the other side--Republican Senator Ted Cruz--who worried allowed that her faith not impede the death penalty. That one escaped Hawley’s notice.
This time, Hawley had the chair pulled out from him in the Senate. He attacked Democrats in advance for something they had no intention of doing.
In a normal world, Hawley would have been roundly chastised for that rubbish. We don’t reside in one of those, however, so Howley raked in precious political capital for 2024, his only sincere concern.
It’s a little-known but notable fact that this is not Hawley’s first rodeo when it comes to distorting reality shamelessly when it comes to a judicial nominee. Last year, Hawley derailed the nomination of Michael Bogren to a federal judgeship using some of the most twisted illogic on record. Ironically, he twisted Catholicism on this one, as well.
Bogren had represented the city of East Lansing, Michigan when it was sued for banning a couple from participating in its farmers' market after they refused to allow their orchard to be rented for same-sex weddings. That seems reasonable enough, unless you’re a homophobe like Hawley.
Bogren had argued that "the First Amendment does not create an exception to anti-discrimination laws based on religious beliefs, whatever those beliefs might be," the Detroit News had reported. Bogren used an analogy that a KKK member couldn't hide behind the First Amendment to deny service to an interracial couple.
Shamelessly, Hawley pounced on the analogy with some unbelievably twisted illogic. Hawley claimed Bogren didn't merely defend his client, but "denigrated" the orchard owners' Catholic faith:
"To say that this family following the teachings of their church and the Scripture, that there's 'no distinction' between them and the KKK, that, I think, is really beyond the pale."
Ed Whelan, a conservative legal scholar writing for the National Review, argued that Bogren — respected on both sides of the aisle — was doing his job as a lawyer, adding that it's wrong to hold him personally responsible for his legal advocacy.
"Do conservatives really want to embrace the general proposition that arguments that a lawyer makes on behalf of a client should, without more, be held against the lawyer?" Whelan asked. "That's a proposition that, apart from being unsound, could redound to the detriment of conservative nominees who have defended religious liberty or pro-life legislation in unpopular contexts."
The conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board criticized Hawley three times in three months, arguing he set a "precedent conservatives will regret."
But guess what? Hawley was successful in killing Bogren’s nomination. He learned his lesson about the benefit of exploiting emotions irrationally when it comes to religious faith.
The larger question is whether Americans will learn any lessons from watching Josh Hawley ply his craft.