In Haranguing Nominee’s Faith, Democrats Creates New SCOTUS Contender

Kevin Daley | Supreme Court Reporter

The scrutiny Democrats on the Senate Committee on the Judiciary applied to the religious conviction of one of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees may have the unintended consequence of elevating the candidate as a natural contender for the next vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Committee Democrats peppered the nominee, Notre Dame Law School Professor Amy Coney Barrett, with a series of questions about her religious convictions, suggesting she would elevate her personal religious views over established case law where the two conflict. Though the remarks were widely condemned, they also cast Barrett as a natural candidate to the Supreme Court, to the extent we might think of judicial confirmations — like much of modern American politics — as popular entertainment.

“The Supreme Court is not immune from what we might call ‘reality-tv-ification,’ where public figures act as characters in a drama,” University of Richmond School of Law Professor Kevin Walsh told The Daily Caller News Foundation. Walsh explained that media coverage of the high court often resembles  successful television in the sense that it involves “breathless discussion of the latest so-called blockbuster ruling and a somewhat superficial analysis of personalities and ideologies.”

In the context of a confirmation hearing, Walsh says lawmakers responding to incentives will play a certain character for the television cameras, and nominees — reacting to the senators — will play another.

“When you have a senator who is playing a certain role, in part, for television cameras, then the candidate who has been nominated ends up taking on a particular role too,” he said.

Barrett’s hearing effectively introduced a new character to this national primetime drama, an accomplished law professor made to answer questions about her faith by hostile inquisitors. Social conservatives have already cast her as something of a folk hero, while much of the nation’s religious establishment condemned the committee’s line of questioning as it related to Barrett’s Catholicism.

Since judicial appointments are for Trump, like so many other things, a matter of dramatics, Barrett emerged from last week’s hearing as a heroine of the series and therefore a natural candidate for the next appointment to the Supreme Court in the eyes of a president for whom the entire game is a PR battle.

This is to say nothing of the fact that Barrett is an accomplished law professor with supporters across the legal firmament. She therefore becomes a major asset to the administration — a seasoned academic and favorite new character of this season.

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