One of the individuals reportedly topping President Donald Trump’s shortlist to replace outgoing Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy belongs to a religious group that believes husbands should rule over their wives, among other highly conservative and traditional beliefs.
Amy Coney Barrett, who was confirmed by the Senate to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago in October 2017, is reportedly part of the Christian group People of Praise – a fact which never surfaced during her confirmation hearing, according to The New York Times.
Ms. Barrett told the senators that she was a faithful Catholic, and that her religious beliefs would not affect her decisions as an appellate judge. But her membership in a small, tightly knit Christian group called People of Praise never came up at the hearing, and might have led to even more intense questioning.
Some of the group’s practices would surprise many faithful Catholics. Members of the group swear a lifelong oath of loyalty, called a covenant, to one another, and are assigned and are accountable to a personal adviser, called a “head” for men and a “handmaid” for women. The group teaches that husbands are the heads of their wives and should take authority over the family.
The Times spoke with legal scholars who concluded that loyalty oaths such as that required by the People of Praise could prove problematic for a judge.
The scholars said in interviews that while there certainly was no religious test for office, it would have been relevant for the senators to examine what it means for a judicial nominee to make an oath to a group that could wield significant authority over its members’ lives.
“These groups can become so absorbing that it’s difficult for a person to retain individual judgment,” said Sarah Barringer Gordon, a professor of constitutional law and history at the University of Pennsylvania. “I don’t think it’s discriminatory or hostile to religion to want to learn more” about her relationship with the group.
According to Craig S. Lent, the group’s leader, People of Praise is neither “nefarious” nor “controversial”; however, per group policy, he would not confirm or deny Barrett's membership status.
“We don’t try to control people,” said Mr. Lent, who is also a professor of electrical engineering and physics at Notre Dame. “And there’s never any guarantee that the leader is always right. You have to discern and act in the Lord.”
He later added, “If and when members hold political offices, or judicial offices, or administrative offices, we would certainly not tell them how to discharge their responsibilities.”
The Times reported that Barrett and her husband do appear to be group members, though Barrett herself declined to comment on several occasions.
Current and former members of People of Praise said that Ms. Barrett and her husband, who have seven children, both belong to the group, and that their fathers have served as leaders. The community, founded in 1971, claims about 1,800 adult members in 22 locations in North America and the Caribbean.
Should Trump choose Barrett to replace Justice Kennedy, certain Democrats could struggle to justify denying a ‘yes’ vote.
As CNN noted, five Democratic senators helped confirm her nomination last year:
She received 55 votes, including from Democrats Joe Manchin (West Virginia), Joe Donnelly (Indiana) and Tim Kaine (Virginia) as well as several moderate Republicans like Shelley Moore Capito (West Virginia), Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).
While that group could make the argument that the Supreme Court is different than a Court of Appeals, it's a tough political position to be in given their past support.