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Looking beyond the Brett Kavanaugh controversy

If Judge Brett Kavanaugh ends up in our

If Judge Brett Kavanaugh ends up in our rearview mirror, the national conversation will turn to: Who's next for the Supreme Court? Credit: AP / J. Scott Applewhite

This week finds the FBI, the U.S. Senate, and much of the American public delving into every detail of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s life.

If Kavanaugh ends up in our rearview mirror — a footnote to history as an almost Supreme Court justice — the national conversation will quickly turn to: Who’s next? Who is on the short list if Kavanaugh’s nomination is derailed?

President Donald Trump and his party may conclude from this week’s events that alienating women is not a smart midterm-election strategy. Hence, they may turn their attention back to Amy Coney Barrett, who was on the original White House shortlist for the Supreme Court. Barrett’s appointment to the U.S. Circuit Court puts her in play as a conservative woman jurist who has passed Congressional cross-examination, although not without her own share of controversy. Remember the exchange between Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Barrett over religion? Feinstein infamously said, “the dogma lives loudly within you.” That little brushfire could, in the wake of the Kavanaugh fiasco, become a full-scale wildfire over the role of religion in our nation today.

Like gender and sex, religion is another hot-button issue for the American electorate. At issue is Barrett’s membership in “People of Praise,” a religious society that describes itself as a “Christian community of families and single people who seek to participate in the mission of the Church . . . until the day Jesus will be all in all,” stressing communal living and community work and using “handmaidens” and “heads” as a leadership pyramid for individual believers.

Religious belief and politics is a toxic mix.

If you think treatment of women is a hotly debated issue, imagine a fight now over how Barrett would approach decisions related to Roe v. Wade and to federal funding of abortion — a more divisive issue among women voters than sexual harassment. That could create another Senate circus.

Granted, Kavanaugh and Barrett are very different choices, but they do share membership in the Federalist Society — a body of conservative lawyers who want to challenge progressive thought in America. Therein lies the real battle.

For now, keep watching, listening, and scrolling as a means of participating in the debate. At stake: the United States of America. And that battle matters.

Tara D. Sonenshine served as U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs (2012 to 2013). She is senior career adviser at The George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs.