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On Monday, the first day of Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, not a single Democratic U.S. senator breathed a word about her religion.
No one mentioned that she was an ultraconservative Catholic, or that she belongs to People of Praise, a religious community that called women “handmaids” until a dystopian television fantasy made the word untenable.
No one quoted her now-famous exhortation to Notre Dame law school graduates in 2006 that a legal career “is but a means to an end … and that end is building the kingdom of God.”
Yet, had you listened only to Republicans on the committee, you would have assumed that’s all Democrats talked about.
“The pattern and practice of religious bigotry from members of this committee must stop!” said Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley.
Republicans tried to wish into existence a religious attack that was not forthcoming.
Democrats knew better than to walk into that trap.
They ignored the nominee’s religion entirely.
Instead, they maintained a laser focus on the widespread belief that a Justice Barrett would help the court strike down the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature legislative achievement.
The 2010 law, which has survived 70 — count ’em 70 — assassination attempts by congressional Republicans, has made it possible for an estimated 23 million Americans to purchase health insurance, for young people to stay on their parents' insurance until they turn 26, and for those with preexisting conditions to get and keep coverage as much as insurance companies might like to dump them.
(Remember the old days before Obamacare, when the news was full of stories about people who couldn’t get health insurance because of a history of acne, anxiety, yeast infections — and just about anything else?)
Democratic senators blew up photos of everyday Americans whose lives were saved by Obamacare. A woman with high blood pressure and diabetes. A woman whose free mammogram detected breast cancer early enough to be treated. A child with a heart condition who required three surgeries before his second birthday.
They noted that some 129 million Americans, more than a third of the country’s population, had preexisting conditions.
Were the Democrats overreacting?
In 2017, when she was a law professor at Notre Dame, Barrett wrote that Chief Justice John Roberts, who provided in 2015 the vote that saved the ACA, erred in his reasoning when he said the penalty imposed on those without health insurance should be considered a tax, well within the rights of Congress to impose.
Roberts, she wrote, “pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute.”
These are not the words of someone who would vote to uphold the ACA, which comes again before the Supreme Court on Nov. 10, in a case called California vs. Texas.
“Please don’t tell us this is not about striking down the Affordable Care Act,” said Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, who called Barrett’s nomination “a judicial torpedo they are firing at the ACA.”
It’s not just healthcare for Americans that would be at risk.
Barrett, who has said she believes life begins at conception, would also probably vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade, which would signal the end of a woman’s unfettered right to abortion in this country, and turn the matter over to states, a number of which already have passed laws that would ban abortion in nearly all cases.
There was so much irony and Republican hypocrisy on display Monday.
Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, who opposes abortion and has said she will support a federal ban on same-sex marriage, told Barrett with a straight face, “The great freedom of being an American woman is that we can decide how to build our lives, whom to marry, what kind of person we are and where we want to go.”
Senators were masked and physically distanced because the president has failed so miserably to lead the country during the coronavirus pandemic. Even while we are in the midst of an outbreak that has killed more than 214,000 Americans, Trump has pushed the nomination of a judge who is all but certain to end the mandate for universal health insurance, at the very moment Americans need it most.
The greatest hypocrisy of all, of course, is that these hearings are even taking place.
In the spring of 2016, many months before the presidential election, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to allow them for Judge Merrick Garland, the moderate jurist nominated by President Obama to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia, who had unexpectedly died.
"Of course," said McConnell at the time, "the American people should have a say in the court's direction."
And now, with election day a mere three weeks away, the great champion of American people having their say has cut out their tongues.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.