It’s not about Barrett’s religion: It’s about the cover-up of how extreme and unqualified she is

The fact that Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett "served as a ‘handmaid’ in Christian group People of Praise," in the words of The Washington Post, is a thing. It's a thing that is concerning to a lot of not evangelical or fundamentalist Christian Americans. Republicans are, however, trying to make that a landmine for Democrats, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell leading the way. They're saying any questions about her rather out-of-the-mainstream practice is an attack on faith. They are in fact itching to have a fight about her religion.

But that's eliding a larger problem: Barrett has been actively trying to cover-up her association with People of Praise and her fundamentalist beliefs, and People of Praise have been helping. This is what Democrats need to be focusing on. The Post reports that while Barrett has disclosed "serving on the board of a network of private Christian schools affiliated with the group," People of Praise will not confirm that she is a member. Furthermore, in the last few years it has "removed from its website editions of a People of Praise magazine — first those that included her name and photograph and then all archives of the magazine itself." Why are her ties to the group being scrubbed and who is helping her do that?

That goes along with Barrett's failure in 2017 and again this year to disclose that she had signed on to a newspaper ad in 2006 taking the most extreme position on abortion possible, advocating for the overturning of Roe v. Wade and going further, saying she  opposed "abortion on demand" and defended "the right to life from fertilization to the end of natural life." That's leaving the door open for banning types of birth control and for investigation and potential prosecution of women who've had miscarriages, the furthest forced birth extremists tend to go. Of course she doesn't want that information in front of the Judiciary Committee or the American public, which supports abortion rights.

So who's covering it up for her? Is the White House advising her to withhold information? Is the Republican-majority Senate  Judiciary Committee staff helping her pick and choose the information senators and the American public get to weigh when considering the nomination? Because it sure seems like a concerted effort, and the kind of thing that raises eyebrows for investigators. What else might she be failing to disclose—and why? This should at least require more time for a more thorough investigation and Democrats should demand that. It's not about her religion: It's about why she is trying to cover up her religion!

Clearly the investigation into Brett Kavanaugh wasn't thorough enough because McConnell and Sen. Chuck Grassley, who was then chair of the committee, wouldn't let it be. They didn't give enough time. That means there are still outstanding questions about Kavanaugh, and big ones. Like who paid his $92,000 country club fees, his $10,500-a-year private school for his kids, his $60,000 to $200,000 credit card debt, and his $1.2 million mortgage before his confirmation hearings. Which is a question for another time and potentially an impeachment investigation when there's a Democratic-controlled Senate. Potentially.

But on this nominee, there needs to be an investigation. The FBI needs to figure out why there was a coordinated effort to cover this information up, why the People of Praise group has been erasing her from existence in their organization, and what else she could be withholding from the committee. It's not about the organization itself: It's about the effort to prevent the Senate and public from knowing. She, and the Republicans, demean the process by hiding things.

There are already serious questions about her fitness to serve. First and foremost, Barrett accepted the nomination in the first place, in these extraordinary circumstances and mere weeks before a presidential election. Then she participated willingly and knowingly in what turned out to be a coronavirus superspreader event that violated the rules the District of Columbia has in place for public gatherings. Yes, the White House is federal land and not governed by D.C.'s ordinances, but it shows an appalling lack of judgement on the part of this would-be justice to participate in the whole fiasco.

But there are also questions about her actual ability to judge. She actually authored a Seventh Circuit opinion last year "that threatened to hurl corporate insurance policies into chaos" and was quickly and quietly withdrawn to allow the lower court judgement she had initially overturned stand. It was an "episode that stunned attorneys and raised questions about her judgment." Because she made an extremely basic and big mistake. She ignored state law, in this case Indiana’s, in her initial ruling. "Her opinion, absolutely, 100 percent, ignored Indiana law with respect to how those things would be decided," one lawyer involved said. "It was the only time in my career where I had to file a brief that raised this point."

It's a given, even among conservatives, that Barrett got this nomination not for her legal qualifications but because of her ideological ones. That's not even debatable in 2020, after the Trump administration and the kinds of judges—even those rated unqualified—he's promoted. What's remarkable is the extent to which Republicans are still committed to covering up her background. That's a problem, and one that gives Democrats absolutely every reason to fight this nomination. Not on religious grounds: on the cover up.

Barrett is the most unpopular Supreme Court nominee, so Democrats have nothing to lose in this fight

For decades, the American public has been working under the assumption that if someone were nominated to the Supreme Court, that person must be qualified. How else could that individual get to a place where they would even be considered for nomination? That slipped a little with President Ronald Reagan's nomination of Robert Bork, who ended up being rejected even by Republicans—enough of them to sink his confirmation. Everything's changed with Donald Trump, however. First Republicans broke all norms and regular procedures by refusing to even talk to President Barack Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, for more than half a year before the election. Then we had the Brett Kavanaugh debacle, where the whole country could see the blunt force Republicans would employ to get a guy everyone recognized as the frat-boy bully of their school nightmares onto the court.

Now we've got the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, and an electorate not giving her the benefit of the doubt as to qualifications. CNN reports: "Initial reactions to Barrett are among the worst in CNN and Gallup polling on 12 potential justices dating back to Robert Bork, who was nominated by Ronald Reagan and rejected by the Senate." Barrett has the distinction, along with Kavanaugh, of being "the only two for whom opposition outweighed support in initial polling on their nominations." A plurality does not want her confirmed, 46% to 42%, and 56% say she should recuse herself from any cases resulting from the 2020 election, including 32% of Republicans. Which leads us to the fight Democrats have to have against her confirmation. There's absolutely no downside to Democrats doing everything in their power, limited though it may be, to fight this.

Most of that fight is going to have to be in the Judiciary Committee. The No. 1 thing Democrats should be doing is boycotting the hearings and refusing to allow Lindsey Graham, the chairman, a quorum to conduct most of his business. With any number of Republican senators unavailable at any given time because of quarantine, Democrats need to be nimble and flexible in when they choose to participate. But senators, Democratic or Republican, aren't likely to miss an opportunity to get some video clips of themselves scoring points out there. Knowing they aren't going to give up a chance at their 15 minutes, they need to follow a plan. Chuck Schumer needs to make them do it.

For once, they have to coordinate. They have to find a single plan of attack and stick to it, with their questions coordinated and designed to build a narrative. Already we're seeing the opening—this is a rushed confirmation that Republicans are intent on ramming through before the election and in that rush, they're covering stuff up. We saw the initial evidence of that when Barrett did not submit a newspaper ad she signed on to in 2006 on behalf of a forced-birther group with the materials she provided to the Judiciary Committee—either for this nomination or for her 2017 nomination to an appeals court position. In the ad, she said she opposed "abortion on demand" and defended "the right to life from fertilization to the end of natural life." That's not all: In 2017, The Washington Post reports she didn't disclose her affiliation with the radical Christian group People of Praise. The group has scrubbed all references to her from its website. What else is she hiding?

In pushing that narrative, they should also have the less effective of their members step back. Let Sens. Kamala Harris (she has said she intends to participate), Amy Klobuchar, Mazie Hirono, and Sheldon Whitehouse—the sharpest interrogators—take the lead. They were the sharpest and most effective questioners in the Kavanaugh hearings and we need that acuity again now. 

That's not the only Democratic coordination we need to have happen. Schumer should be quietly working with his conference and with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on measures they can take to gum up the works for the Senate after the almost inevitable vote out of committee happens. There are things like War Powers resolutions Democratic senators can bring to the floor that will take precedent over a confirmation vote. Likewise, there are resolutions—most notably impeachment—that the House can send over that have to be considered before nominations. Note that this kind of coordination could be happening already. We're not supposed to see it. To be most effective, it can't be seen coming. McConnell is likely already figuring out how he can combat such measures, so Democrats have to be as wily in figuring out when and how to spring them. Which they should be working on. Right now.

Stopping this is going to be nearly impossible, barring the coronavirus continuing to sweep through Republican ranks and reducing the number of senators McConnell has available at any given time. But that doesn't mean Democrats are powerless, and it doesn't mean they shouldn't find every possible avenue for getting this delayed past the election. It probably won't work, but they've got to try it anyway.

For one thing, it will give them practice on coordinating their messaging and their efforts to reform the courts when they have the White House and Senate in 2021.