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Catholic Newspaper Urges Senate To Reject Barrett's Supreme Court Nomination

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're now just nine days away from Election Day, although tens of millions of people have already voted. But the contentious issues that Americans are facing and that are in part intended to draw distinctions and influence the vote are still going on.

One of those issues may come to a conclusion this week when the Senate is expected to vote on President Trump's nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Democrats, of course, are furious at the Senate's Republican majority for rushing to fill the seat vacated by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just over a month ago. A nomination process that would normally take months has been pushed through in a matter of weeks - and, as we said, just days before Election Day.

On the other hand, conservatives have accused Democrats of opposing Judge Barrett's nomination based on her Catholic faith. And some have tried to make this a litmus test of Democrats' religious tolerance, even though the Democratic presidential nominee is himself Catholic - which is one reason we want to tell you about an editorial that caught our attention a few days ago.

It was written by the editorial board of the National Catholic Reporter. It's an independent Catholic publication founded in 1964. It's often described as progressive. And it called on the Senate to reject Judge Amy Coney Barrett's nomination, not on account of her Catholic faith, but rather based on what the editors described as her, quote, "extreme moral relativism," unquote, as demonstrated by her refusal to acknowledge the reality of climate change and equivocation on other issues.

We wanted to hear more, so we've called Heidi Schlumpf. She is the executive editor of the National Catholic Reporter, and she's with us now.

Heidi, thanks so much for joining us.

HEIDI SCHLUMPF: Thanks for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: So one reason we called you is that I think some will be surprised that there is this diversity of views about Judge Amy Coney Barrett's ascension to the high court, particularly on the part of a respected Catholic publication. So I just wanted to sort of ask internally, was this a difficult decision for you to come to?

SCHLUMPF: Well, it wasn't a difficult decision. And it's true that some say any criticism of Amy Coney Barrett is anti-Catholicism. But if there's anti-Catholicism against Supreme Court nominees, it sure isn't working, since if Barrett is confirmed, she would be the sixth Catholic justice out of nine. We are Catholics at the National Catholic Reporter, and we're saying we have serious concerns. And that's why we wrote the editorial.

MARTIN: Tell me more about the moral relativism criticism. I'm going to just set to the side the hypocrisy argument, which I think has been well made, about the fact that when Justice Scalia died nine months before the election, the Republicans refused to even hold a hearing on former President Obama's nomination, saying that the voters should decide - this happening so close to the election, in fact, when people are already voting, a number of Republican senators saying that they would not move forward a nomination in this time period and then, of course, reversed themselves and are doing that.

Others have made that argument. Your argument about moral relativism is one that I don't think a lot of people have heard. So tell me more about why you say that.

SCHLUMPF: Sure. So we had also had the concerns you said - about the closeness to the election. But what caught our eyes was Barrett's performance during the confirmation hearings. So when she refused to answer questions about voter intimidation, for example, and when she said that global warming was still a matter of public debate, we just had a conversation in our meeting that if you can equivocate on these kinds of issues, what is that if not moral relativism?

MARTIN: Why do you say that those stances are disqualifying?

SCHLUMPF: Well, it's hard to ascribe motives to why she's saying what she is saying or not saying. But what it comes off to us and to the American people is that she doesn't see something that we see as so clearly morally wrong - intimidation of voters or unwillingness to remove herself from a decision that might be made about the presidency shortly after she's named. If she can't see those things as morally wrong, then we are trying to call that out as moral relativism.

MARTIN: I think, as you know, that conservatives have made a point to defend Amy Coney Barrett against what they claim are anti-Catholic attacks. And, in fact, a number of her colleagues, former colleagues at Notre Dame Law School, signed a letter to that effect, saying that they hope that her religion won't be brought up as a matter in these hearings. And they weren't.

But I think many people might be surprised to know, as you cite in your piece, that more than a hundred Notre Dame faculty also signed an open letter opposing the nomination. And I think that that's gotten far less attention, and I was interested in why you think that might be.

SCHLUMPF: Well, it's part of this whole narrative that we're seeing, both in terms of her nomination and possible confirmation, as well as in the presidential election in a larger sense, where there's this assumption or this narrative in our country right now that to be Catholic is to be conservative or, indeed, even to be Republican. If you look at voting data from the past and current polling data for this year's election, you can see that the Catholic vote is pretty evenly divided.

There's a real problem, we think, when the only representation or the predominant representation of Catholicism in public office, in the public square and indeed on the Supreme Court would represent only one kind of Catholicism. So, for example, if Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed, that would mean of the six Catholic justices, five of them would be siding with the conservative - what would be a majority of the court at that point.

So that does not represent the breadth of U.S. Catholicism or even necessarily the majority of it. And a lot of Catholics don't really want to be part of a church that's basically the Republican Party.

MARTIN: I would imagine, though, that some people would consider this disloyal. I'll just sort of point this out. The analogy when Justice Thomas was first nominated to the court, there was this kind of debate among, I think, sort of African Americans. Many people took issue with his lack of judicial experience. Many people took issue with what they considered his lack of judicial temperament.

He was clearly sort of positioned for the role because of his deeply conservative beliefs. But other people felt, well, you know, having an African American on the court was worth it, particularly since the sole African American on the court, Justice Thurgood Marshall, had retired. And I just wondered if there was a similar kind of debate around loyalty.

SCHLUMPF: Yeah, well, I don't know if the comparison totally works, since there's so many other Catholics already on the court.

MARTIN: Yeah, true. True.

SCHLUMPF: But I would say, just as Amy Coney Barrett should not be rejected solely because of her Catholicism, the fact that she's Catholic doesn't mean she gets an automatic pass.

MARTIN: That was Heidi Schlumpf. She is the executive editor of the National Catholic Reporter, which just posted an editorial opposing the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Heidi Schlumpf, thank you so much for talking to us today.

SCHLUMPF: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.