Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are calling on the Justice Department to provide any missing materials from a questionnaire completed by Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.
Barrett, who was nominated to the high court last month by President Donald Trump, signed a 2006 newspaper ad sponsored by an anti-abortion group in which she said she opposed “abortion on demand” and defended “the right to life from fertilization to the end of natural life.”
The ad was not included in materials Barrett provided to the Judiciary Committee for her pending Supreme Court nomination, nor in 2017, when she was nominated to the job she holds as a Chicago-based federal appeals court judge.
In a letter Tuesday signed by all 10 Democrats on the Judiciary panel, lawmakers asked the Justice Department to explain the omission and confirm whether any other materials have been left out from the Senate questionnaire. If so, the department should immediately provide the materials for committee review, the senators said.
A Justice Department spokeswoman said the department has received the letter and is reviewing it.
Democrats don’t have the votes to block Barrett’s nomination, but they are trying to slow it down as Republicans speed ahead with an aggressive timetable, starting with hearings next week, aimed at confirming her before the election. Trump backs moving ahead quickly and on Tuesday called off negotiations on further coronavirus relief, saying Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should focus “full time” on confirming Barrett.
The 2006 ad, an open letter signed by Barrett and others, “opposed women’s reproductive freedoms and explicitly called for overturning Roe v. Wade,”’ the landmark Supreme Court decision on abortion, senators wrote. The ad also referred to “the barbaric legacy of Roe v. Wade.”’
The ad, which had more than 1,200 names attached to it, appears to be the most direct expression of Barrett’s opposition to abortion and has intensified debate over whether she would vote to restrict, if not overturn, abortion rights if confirmed to the Supreme Court.
Barrett’s failure to disclose the 2006 letter “leads to additional questions about other potentially missing materials,” the Democratic senators wrote in the letter.
It also raises concerns that the process of collecting materials responsive to the Senate questionnaire, “like the nomination process itself, has been rushed, for no legitimate reason,” the senators wrote. The letter was signed by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel, and nine other Democrats.
White House spokesperson Judd Deere said last week that Barrett, who is Catholic, has distinguished her personal views from her responsibilities as a judge. “As Judge Barrett said on the day she was nominated, ‘A judge must apply the law as written. Judges are not policymakers, and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they might hold,’” Deere said in an email.
Meanwhile, an outside group advocating for conservative judges announced on Tuesday a 15-member team of pro bono legal professionals who will be conducting rapid response and other campaign-style support for Barrett’s confirmation.
“The confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett is the opportunity of more than a lifetime to create the first true conservative majority on the Supreme Court in over 80 years,” said Mike Davis, a former chief counsel to Republicans on the Judiciary Committee who now heads the Article Three Project. He said the group is prepared to “do whatever it takes to push Judge Barrett’s nomination over the finish line by the end of October.”
At a separate news conference Tuesday, several Senate Democrats said Barrett has a clear record of opposing abortion rights.
“Judge Barrett has shown by her past writings and by passing the Trump test (for a Supreme Court nominee) that she would overturn Roe v. Wade,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, another committee member, also attended the news conference, which focused on abortion rights and included advocacy groups.
Meanwhile, Barrett also drew scrutiny for living as a Notre Dame law student in a house owned by the co-founders of People of Praise, a religious community that teaches that men are divinely ordained as the “heads” of both family and faith.
Barrett has not publicly discussed her role with the secretive organization founded in South Bend, which some former members have alleged subjugates women. Barrett also did not list the group as among her affiliations on Senate judicial questionnaires filed last month or in 2017, when she was confirmed to her current seat as a judge on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.
The Associated Press reported last week that documents show both Barrett and her husband, lawyer Jesse M. Barrett, have been involved with People of Praise for decades and have immediate family members who have held high-ranking leadership positions in the group. Amy Barrett’s father served for years as the head of the organization’s New Orleans branch and on its all-male national board of governors. Her mother was a “handmaid,” the term used until recently within the group to describe women entrusted to help guide other female members.
A database that compiles public records and financial information indicates Amy Barrett lived during the mid-1990s in a nine-bedroom house on St. Vincent Street in South Bend. The house is located two blocks from the Notre Dame campus, where Barrett attended law school from 1994 through 1997.
The same home address was also listed for Jesse Barrett on a 1998 traffic ticket he received in Ohio, according to a database of criminal records. He attended Notre Dame as both an undergraduate and for law school, between 1992 and 1999.
Deed and tax records show the spacious colonial was owned until last year by Kevin and Dorothy Ranaghan, a couple that helped found People of Praise four decades ago. The Ranaghans also co-wrote “Catholic Pentecostals,” a 1969 book about the religious movement that helped spawn the South Bend group.
Amy Barrett’s past residence in the Ranaghans’ house was first reported by The Guardian, a British daily newspaper. A number listed for the couple was not answered on Tuesday, but Dorothy Ranaghan was quoted by the newspaper as saying the Supreme Court nominee had lived with them.
“Let’s just say it was one of the better experiences of our life,” Ranaghan told The Guardian. “She is just a gem. But I don’t feel comfortable talking right now.”
Amy Barrett, 48, and Jesse Barrett, 46, did not respond to phone messages seeking comment on Tuesday. The couple live in South Bend with their seven children.
People of Praise spokesman Sean Connolly declined to comment, referring any questions back to the Barretts. He has previously refused to discuss whether the couple are members, though Amy Barrett is listed on tax records as serving on the board of private Christian schools affiliated with the group as recently as 2017.
The AP reported last week that numerous mentions of the Barretts, their children and other family members were scrubbed from People of Praise’s website after her name first emerged three years ago on President Donald Trump’s short list for a seat on the Supreme Court.
People of Praise’s belief system is rooted in charismatic Catholicism, which emphasizes a personal relationship with Jesus and can include baptism in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. Founded in 1971, the group has 22 branches and organizes and meets outside the purview of the Roman Catholic Church and includes people from several Christian denominations, though the majority of its roughly 1,800 adult members remain Catholic.
Young single members of the group often live together in single-sex group homes or are invited to live with a married couple within the group. Single members are often encouraged to pair off and get married.
People of Praise is opposed to the legal right to an abortion, an issue likely to be raised during Barrett’s Senate confirmation hearings, which are set to begin next week.
Former female members of the group also told the AP last month that a wife was expected to obey her husband’s wishes in all matters, including providing sex on demand and having as many children as possible.
Current People of Praise members, including Amy Barrett’s father, told the AP that suggesting male members dominate their wives is a “misunderstanding” of the group’s teachings and that women are free to make their own decisions.
Gene Stowe, a former member who left the community on good terms around 2011, said the Ranaghans were “amazing people.” He said Kevin Ranaghan had a knack for making his teachings very accessible and for explaining things in a way anyone could grasp.
Stowe recalled one teaching Ranaghan gave when a member of the community ran for a local office in the early 1990s. He said members of the group received an “explicit teaching” that they did not have to vote for him.
“It was up to us to decide who to vote for, not just because he was a member of the community,” Stowe said.