We may never have an Italian American in the Oval Office, but we’ve got some sacred icons.
The nomination of Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court has conjured up the spirit of Justice Antonin Scalia. Conservatives are championing her nomination with a simple mantra: Barrett is Scalia’s reincarnation. She clerked for him, shares his same values for family, country, and an unambiguous Constitution.
Scalia was appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1986 in a direct appeal for Italian American votes. It was just two years after Geraldine Ferraro, the first Italian American and first female, chosen for the Democratic Mondale-Ferraro ticket. Although she and Walter Mondale lost that election, the power of the Italian American vote wasn’t lost on winner Reagan.
The Italian American voting bloc soon dissolved, but Scalia went on to become the conservative ideologue for the nation. Dissent was his specialty in a Supreme Court that leaned left. Scalia managed to push the 2nd Amendment away from the 1939 interpretation of gun ownership primarily as support for “a well-regulated militia” to one that decided the militia was extraneous to gun rights. Not all Italian Americans accepted his brand of Constitutional logic.
On other matters, Scalia wasn’t successful in overturning Roe v Wade abortion rights. Nor was he able to sway the court against Obamacare in 2015. A year later he died suddenly, but his spirit hovered over the court awaiting a conservative majority. In a stunning turn of events starting in 2017, President Trump was able to appoint two conservative replacements to the court. With Amy Coney Barrett as the third appointee in his rookie term, no wonder Judge Barrett is seen as the second coming of Scalia – the court will have its conservative majority.
Another common tie between Judge Barrett and the late Justice Scalia is their Catholic faith. Scalia was Jesuit-trained and devout through intellect. Barrett follows a charismatic branch of Catholicism, a Pentecostal version that is more emotional, encourages male dominance, believes in prophesies, and worship that includes waving of hands and intense prayer, healing by laying on of hands. However, the two asserted that religion plays no conscious part in their judicial duties.
Coincidentally, Scalia had nine children, Barrett has seven – five natural, two adopted from Haiti. In this similarity, both are stereotypes of devout Catholics.
Lurking in the wings, aghast at Trump’s nomination of a justice just before the national election, stands House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, yet another icon of the Italian American community. The first woman Speaker, third in line to be president, Pelosi is also a devout Catholic. She has five children, but is not against abortion or same-sex marriage. Despite the Catholic connection, Pelosi and Barrett share very little of Catholic doctrine in common.
Speaking of doctrine, during a 2017 confirmation hearing for appointment to a federal appeals court, Barrett was subjected to a very questionable cross-examination by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) regarding her faith. Stating that Barrett’s “[Catholic] dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern…” Feinstein’s grilling shocked even many Democrats. Would the senator dare touch a religious nerve had the candidate been a Muslim or a fellow Jew? Like Italian Americans, Catholics are rarely a protected species of the politically correct.
Judge Barrett will soon be vetted by the Senate Judiciary Committee headed by a Republican majority. But, as luck would have it, sitting beside them will be none other than Senator Diane Feinstein. Now 87-years old, Feinstein and her Democratic colleagues will wisely stay clear of both Barrett’s Catholicism and abortion rights. No doubt, this hearing will be a media event with much at stake. From the various liberal outlets I’ve watched, the Democratic focus will be on Barrett’s views of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), a safer line of questioning. Yet, a NYTimes editorial by a Catholic opinion writer Elizabeth Bruenig has resurrected the old notion of Catholics as impediments to a liberal nation – how the Catholic devout and their institutions resist an “anything goes” society.
It is abortion rights that looms larger in the Barrett nomination. This is the real issue. Are Catholics the only group appalled by the wholesale liquidation of human fetuses? In this age of accessible contraception and the “morning after” pill, why is surgical abortion, except in extraordinary cases, an acceptable norm in modern society?
Will Saint Antonin inspire a more humane America? -JLM