Mark Paoletta: Amy Coney Barrett would be brave, principled Supreme Court Justice – just like Clarence Thomas

Amy Coney Barrett explains why she accepted Supreme Court nomination

SCOTUS nominee tells Sen. Thom Tillis that in order to protect freedom, ‘we need to participate in that work.’

The Thursday vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee approving the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court means the full Senate is expected to vote early next week to confirm her, likely giving conservatives a reliable majority on the high court for the first time.

Barrett — currently a judge on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — is a self-described originalist who clerked for the late Justice Antonin Scalia and has said she shares his legal philosophy. She is eminently qualified to join the Supreme Court.

However, we’ve seen many instances over the years of conservative judges ascending to the high court, breathing the air of elite Washington, and failing to live up to their former principles.

Since 1970, Republican presidents have appointed 13 justices to the Supreme Court. Democratic presidents have only appointed four.

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Still, with Democratic appointees voting in lockstep, and regular defections from one or more Republican appointees, conservatives have never had a reliable majority on the court. With Justice Barrett that may change.

I had the good fortune to be the White House staffer who placed the first call to then-Professor Amy Coney Barrett to explore whether she would be interested in being an appellate court judge.

Twenty-eight years earlier, while working in the first Bush administration, I made a similar call to Clarence Thomas before his appointment to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. He went on to be confirmed as a Supreme Court justice in 1991.

Justice Thomas has turned out to be the most consistent originalist on the Supreme Court, surpassing even his friend — and Judge Barrett’s mentor — Justice Scalia. I see in Judge Barrett the same character that has made Justice Thomas so consistent over the last three decades.

In my early March 1989 call with then-Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Chairman Thomas, I asked him to provide me with every speech and article he had written. What emerged from my review was a man who was intellectually curious and who challenged the accepted wisdom of the civil rights and elite Washington leadership.

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Thomas believes in individual rights, not group rights. He believes that the Constitution’s text has the same meaning today as the day it was ratified.

Most importantly, Thomas was and is intensely interested in how our country, founded on the idea that all men are created equal, could permit slavery and segregation. His answer was not that America was irredeemable, but that slavery and segregation were America’s failure to live up its own ideals.

Justice Thomas’ appreciation for America’s founding and steadfast adherence to the original meaning of the Constitution are not what liberals in Washington expect of a Black man. For this, he has been subjected to ridicule and contempt that lays bare the racism that many liberals hold toward conservative Blacks.

In spite of these obstacles, Justice Thomas has consistently moved the Supreme Court toward his view of the law. Over the past 29 years, Thomas has written nearly 700 opinions — by far the most of any justice now on the court — laying out an originalist vision of the Constitution and revisiting long-settled precedents he considers wrongly decided.  

What has kept Justice Thomas so consistent and influential in the face of constant attacks? His faith and a comfort with defying the expectations of elite Washington society.

In his chambers, Justice Thomas keeps a copy of the Litany of Humility: “From the desire of being honored, Deliver me, O Jesus ….  From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, O Jesus.”  

Thomas has lived these words from his boyhood through his appointment to the

Supreme Court. He grew up poor, doing hard manual labor in segregated Georgia. And now every summer he leaves the Washington swamp to drive around the country with his wife in their RV—a decidedly middle-class American pastime.

Justice Thomas cares far more for the opinions of the Americans he meets in the Walmart stores where he parks his RV than the opinions of anyone on the Georgetown cocktail circuit.

In 2017, when an Indiana seat on the 7th U.S. Circuit of Appeals opened up, I was tasked in my role as counsel to Vice President Mike Pence with finding candidates to fill the vacancy.

I made several calls to legal scholars in both Indiana and Washington and the name I kept hearing was Amy Coney Barrett. When I spoke with her I was struck by her warmth and Midwestern grounding.

When Barrett came to the White House to be interviewed I was impressed with her sharp mind and laser-like focus when answering questions. But I also noticed traits she shared with Thomas — her humility and her refusal to live the life expected of her by elite society.

Just as elites find it incomprehensible that a Black man who lived under Jim Crow could love and admire the American founding and reject racial preferences, they are confounded by a well-educated woman who chose to have seven children, including two she adopted from Haiti, and who actually practices her Catholic faith.

They are surprised that such a woman signed a petition denouncing Roe v. Wade (the 1973 Supreme Court decision barring states from outlawing abortion) and its “barbaric legacy.”

Not surprisingly, during her Senate confirmation hearing for her nomination to the 7th Circuit Barrett faced bigoted attacks on her faith, similar to the racist attacks that have been leveled at Justice Thomas.

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Thomas has demonstrated for more than 30 years what it means to be brave and principled. I am confident that years from now we will be saying the same about Justice Barrett, because like Justice Thomas she has forged a path of her own making.

America is fortunate to have Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court and to have Amy Coney Barrett about to join him there.

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