October 4, 2020

Reckless White House Event Calls Into Question Judge Barrett’s Judgment

Reckless White House Event Calls Into Question Judge Barrett's Judgment

After President Trump and other leading Republicans tested positive for COVID-19 this week, attention focused on the crowded September 26 White House event where Trump announced the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Attendees, mostly without masks, were packed together, both at the outdoor ceremony and at indoor receptions. They were seen by the nation shaking hands, hugging, talking closely face-to-face.

Even by the reckless standards of the Trump White House and Trump campaign, the Barrett announcement event was egregious in terms of the lack of social distancing and mask wearing. And the potential victims go well beyond the powerful White House aides, senators, lawyers, political operatives, and religious leaders who attended. The spread from the event could extend to other friends and associates, family members, drivers, housecleaners, waiters, and others who subsequently have encountered the connected people who went to the White House — as well as Vice President Biden and those at Tuesday’s presidential debate, where Trump, who likely already was infected, once again mocked Biden for regularly wearing a mask.

Voters will have to render their judgment on Trump and the other politicians who acted recklessly at this likely super spreader event. But there’s another potential vote looming, even before the election, and it’s about the federal judge who was the centerpiece of the fateful White House event.

At the ceremony, Trump presented Judge Barrett as “one of our nation’s most brilliant and gifted legal minds … a woman of towering intellect.” That same day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called Barrett “an exceptionally impressive jurist” who “has demonstrated exactly the independence, impartiality, and fidelity to our laws” needed for a Supreme Court justice. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC), said, “Judge Barrett is highly qualified in all the areas that matter – character, integrity, intellect, and judicial disposition.” At the Capitol three days later, Vice President Pence, standing alongside McConnell and Barrett, called the judge “someone of great character, of great intellect…”

But if Amy Coney Barrett has such incredible character, integrity, independence, wisdom and judgment, why did she allow herself to be presented to the nation at a reckless, maskless super spreader event?

Judge Barrett reportedly already recovered from COVID-19 this summer. And like everyone else, she surely knew the facts about the virus: 200,000 Americans already dead; powerful scientific evidence that masks and social distancing reduce the spread. Those of us who have lost a loved one who had the disease, or watched a family member sobbing on Zoom, know the real costs. Perhaps Judge Barrett doesn’t, or perhaps her hunger for the job outweighed her empathy.

It’s not a good answer to say that Judge Barrett, brought into the intimidating environment of the White House, simply had to do what Trump and his aides said. Any responsible person in this pandemic era would not have allowed herself to be complicit. She was being nominated not to work for Trump but to serve as an independent justice, working for an independent branch of government. Indeed, she is already a federal appeals judge, part of that independent branch.

Judge Barrett could have politely demanded a safer event, for the sake of her family, the attendees, and the country. She at least could have worn a mask herself at some point to set an example. Instead she reveled in another foolhardy MAGA celebration.

Now Trump, McConnell, and Graham are asking senators, without precedent, to rush to Judge Barrett’s confirmation vote in the midst of an election, at a time when at least two GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee — Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Mike Lee (R-UT), both attendees at the White House event — have tested positive for the disease, and the risks associated with committee hearings and floor votes have increased.

But beyond these procedural and health concerns, the more fundamental question is: Should Amy Coney Barrett be entrusted with the monumental decisions — from health care and reproductive choice, to civil rights and voting rights — that come to the United States Supreme Court? Her complicity in an awful, reckless super spreader event in front of the whole world suggests she should not.