Home/Rod Dreher/Barrett Or Kavanaugh?

Barrett Or Kavanaugh?

Amy Coney Barrett (DailyDomer screengrab)

They say that there are three contenders for Trump’s SCOTUS nomination, which will be announced on Monday: Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, and Raymond Michael Kethledge. I know nothing about Kethledge, but if it’s either Kavanaugh or Coney Barrett, I’ll be very pleased.

J.D. Vance makes the case for Kavanaugh. It’s behind the WSJ paywall, but here are the parts that jumped out at me:

I’ve known Judge Kavanaugh since 2011, when I was a law student at Yale. He taught a foreign-policy seminar that year, and what most impressed me was his willingness to defend himself and his principles in an ideologically hostile environment. For a conservative finding my way in an institution where I was heavily outnumbered, Judge Kavanaugh’s mentorship and example were invaluable. A few years later, he hired my wife as a law clerk. So I’m personally a proud Kavanaugh partisan.


His judicial record spans just about every important area of the law, and conservatives should be happy with the results. He sided with the Trump administration in rejecting the American Civil Liberties Union’s demand that the government facilitate an immediate abortion for an illegal-alien teenager in federal custody. He rejected the Obama administration’s attempt to coerce religious groups to provide contraception to employees. He stood by Scalia’s strong originalist interpretation of the Second Amendment and rejected balancing tests designed to undermine the right to keep and bear arms. He upheld labeling requirements on foreign-made products designed to protect American manufacturers and farmers. He has protected police officers acting in good faith against unwarranted damage verdicts, most recently in a case in which the Supreme Court vindicated his position in a 9-0 opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas.

A Justice Kavanaugh could also be influential beyond the bench. Like a lot of conservative law students, I acquired my conservative constitutionalism after reading Justices Scalia and Thomas rebut their more progressive colleagues. The conservatives simply have the better of the argument, I often thought. Persuasive power requires not only sound principles but intellectual strength, rhetorical skill, and a willingness to engage with an opponent’s best arguments. From the way he worked in the classroom to his 12 years on the D.C. Circuit, Judge Kavanaugh regularly reveals those qualities.

I simply don’t know enough about the law to say which of these two — Coney Barrett or Kavanaugh — I would prefer strictly on the intellectual and jurisprudential merits. Again, I find both of them to be exciting candidates. It may not matter at this point, though. Ross Douthat, in his column for Sunday’s Times, reports that Coney Barrett’s interview with Trump went “quite badly,” which, if true, means that it’s down to Kethledge and Kavanaugh. If that’s the case, I hope for Kavanaugh, trusting J.D. on this one. But my heart is with Coney Barrett, of whom Ross says:

But my real preference is still for Barrett, and for reasons that, if I’m being honest, have a lot in common with the president’s focus on the judge-as-personality. I have enough friends at Notre Dame vouching for her legal chops to give me confidence that she deserves the job on the merits. But I also suspect that the combination of her sex and her religious beliefs would give her more fortitude than a male justice on the one issue where I want judicial action, not restraint: Overturning our inhumane abortion settlement.

And in an age where the court’s role is destined to remain outsized, where jurists become icons and celebrities, I make no apology for desiring a prominent embodiment of the possible marriage between female empowerment and religious conservatism — the marriage that might ultimately save our culture, if it’s ever to be saved.

If that’s identity politics, make the most of it. This woman’s place is on the court.

Assuming qualifications are equal, I also would favor someone who is not part of the Harvard-Yale legal axis — if nominated and confirmed, she would be the only SCOTUS member without a degree from either law school — as well as someone who is raising a big family. Seems to me that a woman who is also a mother would bring special insights to the bench. As Ross says, she would instantly become an icon for many of us social and religious conservatives, in the same way that Justice Ginsburg is for liberals.

And: she would be the only conservative woman on the Court. If you want a Supreme Court that looks like America, surely that counts for something.

For me, her involvement in the parachurch group People Of Praise is a big plus. Ruth Graham writes about them in Slate. They’re such a Benedict Option-style group that I initially planned to profile them in my book, but ran out of time and space.

Your thoughts? It is a weird feeling to know that whoever is announced on Monday, I won’t be disappointed. The one thing that has been a total win for conservatives in this administration has been the president’s legal picks, guided by the Federalist Society.

UPDATE:Alan Jacobs, on the “cult” to which Amy Coney Barrett belongs:

To me, the most interesting and significant element of the opposition to Amy Coney Barrett is the inability of some of her critics to achieve even the most basic comprehension of the character of an organization like People of Praise. Many Americans are so thoroughly catechized into the Atomic Theory of Human Life — the belief that all significant life-decisions are properly made by autonomous monads, with only the State to set boundaries and provide a safety net — that a genuinely functional community, in which some of the burdens of decision-making are distributed throughout a network of people bound to one another by mutual affection, can only be seen as a “cult.”


UPDATE.2: A reader posts:

“I know nothing about Kethlidge, but if it’s either Kavanaugh or Coney Barrett, I’ll be very pleased.”

I suggest you learn more about Kethledge (correct spelling). His very sensible judicial record aside, he’s the kind of Protestant (ACNA Anglican) that it should be quite easy for conservatives of every religion to support. And his U. Michigan J. D. checks your “not another Harvard/Yalie” box. (His grandfather was an interesting fellow.)


The court is missing a few Protestants, particularly of this type. Kethledge would make a good start.

Thanks for that information. To me, the most important thing the Court will be ruling on is religious liberty. It’s a big relief to know that Kethledge is great on that.

UPDATE.2: Reader Sigilaris comments:

Oh dear. I lived in a group that was a sister community to People of Praise in their first decades–a history that has been made invisible on their website. It went bad in so very many directions. Heaven knows I’ve tried to describe what that was like in a way that will enable others to learn from my experience, but to no avail. So I won’t try again here. Tono Bungay is right. It should be disturbing that a potential Supreme Court justice belongs to a group that is this secretive about what it really believes and practices. But apparently it’s not, because . . . reasons? I give up.

My sincere wish is that Rod and others who think this sounds swell should have the opportunity to live in covenant community for, say, ten years–as anonymous Christians, without external wealth or privilege to ensure they will be treated as special. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Experience keeps a dear school, but a fool will learn in no other.”

As for “the extraordinary energy to balance things such as a large family with a high-powered legal career,” this is nonsense. There aren’t that many hours in the day. Coney Barrett is not raising those seven children, of whom at least three require special care and attention, while having a legal career on the side. Somewhere in the background there are nannies and housekeepers–or perhaps People of Praise has assigned some single women to serve as unpaid help in return for the privilege of living with such a godly family. That kind of thing happened in my old outfit. I’m all in favor of women having careers, but I’m not in favor of the hypocrisy of having a career for yourself while telling other women that God’s highest calling is to serve in the home. Ah well. There’s nothing to be done but put on my Cassandra hat and make popcorn. All this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

leave a comment

Latest Articles