Judge Barrett is family to me. Don’t confirm her

A relative of the Supreme Court nominee speaks out in The.Ink

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Today I came across something very moving.

A woman I went to college with, now a brilliant campaigner against fossil fuels and on behalf of our survival on the planet, was ready to come forward with something painful but important to her to share: Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, is a relative of hers — the wife of her own first cousin. My friend, Moira Birss, likes Judge Barrett very much personally, knows her to be a kind and gracious human being, took due pride in the ascendancy to judicial influence of a member of her own extended kinfolk. And she even allowed herself to speculate that Barrett, relative to whoever else might be put on the court, would be less harmful.

Then Moira began to do some research into someone she has known only from family reunions and weddings and funerals. And what she found about Judge Barrett’s record made it impossible to sustain that hope any longer. Moira came to a conclusion that is difficult for anyone in her situation: what is best for the country is for someone she is related to, someone she likes very much, someone she admires, to be denied a big job.

I’m truly honored that Moira decided to publish this beautiful essay in The.Ink. I hope you read it and share it with your senators.

“But she’s so nice!” isn’t enough

By Moira Birss

Amy Coney Barrett is like family to me. Actually, she is family to me.

President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee is my relative through marriage. Her husband, Jesse Barrett, is my first cousin. And so the daily articles about her family, her membership in the group People of Praise, and the implications of her possible confirmation to the highest court of this land have hit very close to home for me and others in my family. Despite my family pride and my affection for Amy as a person, I am also a woman, part of a community, and someone who believes deeply that everyone deserves to be protected and treated with dignity. That is why, after much deliberation, I have decided to make my opposition to her confirmation public.

I didn’t grow up in South Bend, as Jesse and many of our cousins did. But I lived only a couple hours away, and my mom and I would visit regularly. The family usually gathered at our grandparents’ farm outside of South Bend, and we cousins loved to ride with our grandfather as he drove the tractor around the yard, sometimes cutting grass and sometimes just taking us for joy rides. I’m an only child, so my cousins are the closest thing I have to siblings. 

Though I was also raised Catholic, neither I nor other cousins grew up within People of Praise, as Jesse did. Nonetheless, “the community,” as we cousins grew up calling it, was an ever-present part of our family, since our grandparents belonged and hosted prayer meetings at their house. While I’m very uncomfortable with its emphasis on patriarchal hierarchy, I don’t think People of Praise is a cult. In fact, I know its emphasis on mutual aid between members has much to admire and has provided important support in times of need for members of my family.

As we grew older, went to college, and moved to other parts of the country (or world), I fell out of touch with many of my cousins. But I would often make it back to South Bend for our annual family reunion at Thanksgiving, for cousins’ weddings, and, of course, when our grandparents passed.

In those family gatherings, I met Jesse’s wife, Amy. Those personal interactions, and the relationships she has with other family members, made clear to me what a warm and kind person she is, though Amy and I never established as close a relationship as she did with some other members of the family with whom I am also close. 

Therefore, when Amy’s name began to show up on President Trump’s Supreme Court short list, I was torn. I’m a campaigner for racial and climate justice, dwelling at the other end of the political spectrum from Amy, and normally would have deep concerns about any candidate that Trump and the GOP would favor. But Amy is part of my family, and is such a nice person, and has raised — with the help of other members of our family — such delightful children. I have actually bristled at some of the personal criticisms of Amy and her family, because, after all, those are criticisms of my family.

Like many others in this country, people in our family hold a wide range of political views — in fact, most of our family is on the opposite of the political spectrum from Amy and Jesse. But we all find Amy lovely to be around, and as a result many of us, myself included, began to tell ourselves that her tenure on the Court wouldn’t be as harmful to marginalized people as we believe those of many other conservative jurists might be. “But she’s so nice!” is a common refrain within the family as we have discussed her rise as a conservative legal star in recent years. 

But in recent weeks, I, like many others, have learned more about Amy’s legal writings and decisions, and I have researched political groups she’s a part of, like the right-wing Federalist Society. And it has become clear that her views on the law would put so many members of our society — and even our own family — at risk: from those who rely on the Affordable Care Act for life-saving healthcare, to low-wage workers and non-white workers, to LGBTQ people.

And it’s not just her record that has forced me to rethink my “but she’s so nice!” justifications. From what I know and have heard from family about Amy, she dislikes much about Trump, especially the disrespect he shows for women. Yet the fact that she’s willing to accept the blessing of a nomination from him and all he represents, without raising her voice against those behaviors, particularly in this deeply partisan nomination process so soon after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and in the midst of an election after millions of people have already voted, tells me that I must override my inclination to give her a pass because she’s family and because I’ve enjoyed our personal interactions. 

This decision must be about whether the nominee believes the protections of the law extend to everyone, not just the already powerful. It must be about whether or not a potential justice is willing to stand up to the powerful within their own political circles and to exercise good judgment for the well-being of all people.

Which is why I have come to the painful conclusion that the decision about who becomes our next Supreme Court justice should not — cannot — rest on whether someone is a nice person. And while I may be the only one in our family publicly speaking out, I have heard from several relatives in recent weeks who are in full agreement with me.

After all, so much is at stake in this confirmation battle: the protection of voter rights, particularly for people of color, incarcerated people, and the poor; accountability for police violence against Black people; the ability of our government to comprehensively address the climate crisis; the right of all of us to make our own decisions about when and whether we want to have children.

So today I am doing an incredibly hard thing, a thing that may upset some of my family members, because at the end of the day the survival and dignity of the most marginalized people in my community are that important. And the harmful impacts of my relative Amy’s being on the Court will be much greater for them than for me.

I am urging the Senate to reject the confirmation of a family member of mine whose personal kindness will never compensate for all she will do to make America less kind.

Learn more about Moira’s work here. And thank you, as always, for reading The Ink. Your support for this newsletter makes a big difference. If you haven’t yet, consider subscribing here:

Photo: Leah Millis/Getty