Photo credit: Evan El-Amin (Shutterstock.com)
It was supposed to be her big moment.
One sunny Saturday in late September, the White House summoned Amy Coney Barrett for a historic ceremony in the Rose Garden. As she stood on the dais alongside President Trump, she finally saw the fruit of her decades of hard work in the legal profession and her disciplined personal behavior as a mother of seven, a devout, charismatic Catholic, and a respected professor of law. Formally introduced by the 45th President of the United States as his first female nominee for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, she gladly accepted the honor. Rallying around Barrett, current colleagues and former faculty from Notre Dame published glowing testimonies of her impeccable moral character and academic credentials.
Since 1997, when the valedictorian of her class at Notre Dame Law School held a prestigious clerkship for Associate Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, Barrett had been groomed to be the pro-life legal icon of Christian womanhood. Since she returned to serve as a law professor at her alma mater in 2002, it was whispered around Notre Dame’s campus that she would eventually follow in Scalia’s footsteps to uphold his originalist jurisprudence, textualist reasoning, and Roman Catholic values to restore morality and justice to the derelict post-war liberalism of the Supreme Court.
In 2006, Barrett joined other pro-life law faculty in signing a public advertisement in the South Bend Tribune calling for the courts to overturn the “barbaric” legacy of Roe v. Wade. Within ten years of her clerkship, she had become a female evangelical activist version of Scalia in her personal and political activities. Like her mentor, all she had to do was patiently wait for her moment to be selected by a Republican president to fill an opening on the Supreme Court.
Yet in the Rose Garden that sunny day in late September, at the very moment Barrett seemed to reach peak perfection as a Christian model of maternal concern for the lives of the born and the unborn, the law professor and federal judge unwittingly set herself up for an abrupt fall from grace. As if the script for the September 26th Rose Garden ceremony had been ripped from Paradise Lost, the rising hubris of Amy Coney Barrett tripped her up as she strode in her peach high heels into the right-wing debutante party of her dreams.
Despite her and her husband’s summer bouts with the coronavirus, and the alarming caseload of COVID-19 in her home city of South Bend, she failed to wear a mask or socially distance, or even require her seven children to do so, in the intimate outdoor and indoor gatherings at the White House. Her husband, a lawyer and a signatory on the 2006 anti-abortion advertisement, also went maskless.
Although Barrett reported a negative test result on October 2nd, there has been no public disclosure of whether her husband and children have been tested since their visit to the White House. We also do not know whether or not any of the children contracted the virus this summer alongside their parents.
Most people in the recently renovated Rose Garden followed the example of the maskless Trump and Barrett families. While packed tightly together on lawn chairs, guests declined to practice the standard COVID-19 mitigation measures that had been implemented with somber exactitude at Ginsburg’s memorial at the Supreme Court only days beforehand.
In the garden of Eden, the sinful influence of the serpent turns Eve and Adam into liars before their creator. In what once was a garden of roses, the corrosive love of power drove Barrett and her supporters to worship at the foot of a President who has cynically courted the pro-life lobby only to champion a disastrous pandemic response that has led to over 200,000 American deaths.
An ancient Judeo-Christian proverb teaches us that we reap what we sow. In a destabilizing crisis for American democracy, both the President and the First Lady tested positive for COVID-19 on October 2nd—just six days after the maskless Rose Garden party for Amy Coney Barrett. At least five other prominent people who clustered together at the front of the audience have since tested positive, including two Republican U.S. Senators, a former Trump White House staff member, the former Republican governor of New Jersey and Notre Dame fan Chris Christie, and the president of Notre Dame, Fr. John Jenkins, who is a long-time supporter of Barrett.
Although Amy Coney Barrett entered the Rose Garden as the darling of the pro-life cause, she left with her powers of moral and legal judgment in serious question.
Can we trust a judge who fails to follow the most basic rules designed to protect life itself during a lethal pandemic? One cannot consistently champion the rights of the unborn while recklessly jeopardizing the well-being of one’s friends and family.
As citizens we can only stop such madness in the midst of a plague by casting our ballots and exercising our constitutional freedoms of speech and association.
After all, as the Supreme Court nominee’s cavalier behavior at this superspreader event reminds us, our nation still faces a mortal threat — and in the leader we choose, our right to life is at stake.
Eileen Hunt Botting (@EileenHBotting) is a professor of political science at Notre Dame and the author of several books, including the forthcoming Artificial Life After Frankenstein (Penn Press, 2020).