Rhodes College Alumni Oppose Barrett Nomination to Supreme Court

October 1, 2020 by Dan McCue
Rhodes College

To many of them, she is a one-time classmate and sorority sister, but that didn’t stop more than 1,500 Rhodes College alumni from signing a letter to the school’s president opposing the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Nor did it stop even more of them from joining a Facebook group, Rhodes College Alumni Against ACB’s Nomination, to continue to oppose her pending confirmation as the high court’s next associate justice.

In their letter to President Marjorie Hass, authors Rhodes alumni Rob Marus and Katherine Morgan Breslin, state that “despite the respect that many of us hold for [Barrett’s] intellect, and even the friendship that many of us held or continue to hold with her, we are firmly and passionately opposed to her nomination.”

They go on to say they are equally opposed to efforts by some Rhodes administrators “to embrace” Barrett as an alumni, arguing “her record and the process that has produced her nomination are diametrically opposed to the values of truth, loyalty, and service that we learned at Rhodes.”

Barrett graduated magna cum laude from Rhodes College, a liberal arts institution in Tennessee affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, in 1994.

At Rhodes, she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and was also recognized as the most outstanding English major and for having the best senior thesis.

After graduating from Rhodes, Barrett went to law school at Notre Dame on a full-tuition scholarship, and eventually continued her career as educator and judge on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In interviews, Breslin has said the alumni’s opposition to Barrett has “nothing to do with any personal aspect of her family life or her faith. It’s just based on public statements, public affiliation and rulings.”

The former students also pointedly did not ask the college to take a position on Barrett’s nomination.

Instead they implored President Hass to make it clear the college opposes intolerance, discrimination and bigotry of all kinds, and that it “stands with its LGBTQ, female, minority, and other marginalized students and graduates who fear their rights may be endangered” by Barrett’s lifetime appointment to the court.

The alumni cited three specific areas where they find Barrett’s record troubling.

First, they wrote, the judge “has repeatedly obfuscated, when it was convenient for the advancement of her judicial career, about issues central to the personal autonomy of Rhodes alumni. 

“This is particularly true of issues related to Rhodes’ LGBTQ and female alumni,” they said. 

They note that during her confirmation hearings for her current seat on the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals, Barrett sidestepped direct questions about how she would rule on a challenge to the right to abortion protected under the high court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade.

“As for your question about Roe, I think that the line that other nominees before the committee have drawn in refraining from comment about their agreement or disagreement or the merits or demerits of any Supreme Court precedent is a prudent one,” Barrett said at the time.

She also said she would “follow all Supreme Court precedent without fail,” and would abide by the jurisprudential concept of stare decisis — a Latin term for “let the decision stand.”

But the alumni said those past assurances are little comfort now. As a judge on a lower court, Barrett was bound to follow Supreme Court precedent. As a member of the Supreme Court, she will be bound by no such constraints.

The alumni also contend Barrett “obfuscated” during her 2017 confirmation hearing about her association with an anti-LGBTQ organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled a hate group.

When confronted with the fact Alliance Defending Freedom was a hate group, Barrett claimed she was unaware of its positions and said ‘I never witnessed any discriminatory conduct in any way.”

The alumni went on to say in accepting President Trump’s nomination, Barrett endorsed the “rank hypocrisy and disloyalty” of Republican senators who blocked President Obama from appointing Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court ahead of the 2016 presidential election, but who are now vowing to rush Barrett’s nomination through the Senate.

Finally, the letter signers said, since being appointed to the 7th Circuit, Barrett has demonstrated a judicial philosophy and record that fails to serve and protect the vulnerable in our society, including immigrants, those in the criminal justice system, and individuals reliant on the Affordable Care Act for health insurance.

“Rather, Judge Barrett has shown a propensity to protect corporate interests over those of private individuals,” they wrote.

In her response to the letter, Hass said she respects “the matters of conscience” that motivated the alumni to send it.

“I hope that your letter—as well as the support, dissent, and attention it has generated—serves as a spur for robust engagement with the political process. We expect nothing less from our alumni,” she said.

Hass also said she stands by public comments in which she acknowledged Barrett’s “record of academic achievement while a student at Rhodes.”

“The college will continue to speak of her with respect and friendship—the same respect and friendship you affirm in your letter,” she said.

At the same time, the college president said she was happy to reaffirm her, and the institution’s, stand against bigotry.

“As an institution devoted to excellence in the liberal arts and sciences, we are fundamentally committed to inclusion, belonging, and respect for all persons,” Hass wrote. “In my experience, Rhodes has a record of rising in support of the rights of members of our community by creating policies to safeguard our students, asserting institutional values, and where appropriate, signing on to amicus briefs to the courts. You can be assured that these practices will continue.”

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