By all accounts, Amy Coney Barrett is a fine human being, but it's disconcerting to consider how little we actually know about her after the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings last week on her nomination to the Supreme Court.
It's not unreasonable for Supreme Court nominees to decline to reveal how they would rule if faced with specific cases that could reach the court. Indeed, Barrett declined often, relying on the so-called Ginsburg rule, which Barrett summed up as follows: "No hints, no previews, no forecasts."
But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was entirely transparent about where she stood on abortion, for example, when she went through the same confirmation process in 1993. Ginsburg said, "The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman's life, to her well-being and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself. When government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices."
That statement couldn't be clearer. One wonders why Barrett could not be as straightforward. She may not want to commit herself on Roe v. Wade, but why shouldn't the American public deserve to know how she feels about a woman's right to make decisions about her own body?
The problem with modern judicial confirmation hearings is that the default position has become evasion. Answer the fewest questions possible, even if the answer could shed important light on the essential purpose of the confirmation hearings, the discovery not only of a candidate's judicial philosophy, but also of what kind of a person she is. But Barrett evaded even straightforward questions:
Does a president have the unilateral constitutional or statutory power to postpone an election? You and I know the answer to that question, but Barrett wouldn't commit herself.
Climate change? Barrett retreated to the refuge of the willfully non-committed, saying basically that she'd heard of it and read a little about it, but doesn't have any opinions on it. Strange.
And why shouldn't we know more about Barrett's religious beliefs? Few things say more about who a person is than what she believes or doesn't believe and how firmly.
But for the most part, religion was off the table. On the first day of the hearing, Republicans were so defensive of Barrett's Catholicism that they were shocked that Democrats would even bring it up, failing to notice that none of them had.
Republican Sen. Ben Sasse rose to Barrett's defense, even though no one had attacked her. Sasse asserted that the committee has no business deciding which religious beliefs are good, bad or "weird." Sasse, describing himself as "self-consciously a Christian," listed what he called "a whole bunch more really weird beliefs": the virgin birth, resurrection from the dead, eternal life and so on.
Well, sure. But religious people have always found ways to accommodate supernatural beliefs — religion, by definition, is supernatural — with their secular roles, including the five Catholics currently on the court.
But Barrett has been closely associated with a small, mostly Catholic group that reportedly has beliefs no more "weird" than the ones that Sasse lists, but which are harder to accommodate to a modern, rational and properly secular approach to jurisprudence.
If Barrett believes in the so-called charismatic gifts — speaking in tongues, divine healing, prophecy — why don't we have a right to know that?
No one is challenging Barrett's right to hold those beliefs. The beauty of being an American is that we have a right to believe pretty much anything we want.
But the question here is not the rights bestowed on citizens, but elevation to the Supreme Court. Don't Americans have a right to know if Republicans are forcing onto the court a jurist who believes in miraculous healing and who will probably have to make a decision about the Affordable Care Act, America's current path to better healing for all?
It's a simple question. Someone should ask it. But don't expect Amy Coney Barrett to give an answer.
John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.