Amy Coney-Barrett: The Origins of the Specious

In the course of our lives we meet people who we consider brilliant intellectually and/or lovely and decent. But, we are all only human, and sooner or later, you’ll find a place in their psyche that is to say the least anomalous with regard to everything else about them. It may strike like a lightning bolt when this well-spoken, seemingly erudite individual casually drops the “N” word in otherwise polite conversation, or it can be a growing unease as you start to realize the person you’re talking to espouses the philosophy of Ayn Rand in its entirety. It is almost invariably tied to or based upon some sort of religious belief, and it only adds to my conclusion that religion is synomymous with psychosis.

The progressives (or the right-wing effigy of us) who get most of the media attention focus on her being the straw that will break the back of Roe v. Wade. They forget that even RBG wasn’t such a great defender of that decision, although she was of course a defender – perhaps one of the greatest we’ve had – of a woman’s right to choose. Roe v. Wade was based upon a poorly constructed (you might even say specious) constitutional “right to privacy”. Originalist (Scalia, Coney, et alia) will tell you there is no such right, and they’d be “correct”. By the same logic, slavery should still be legal – so long as the slaves weren’t imported, of course. Such originalist thinking leads to all sorts of moral absurdities, and the fact that the Framers provided for the Constitution’s evolution (by amendment) is, to my albeit naive, untrained mind, proof that they knew the document would need to change with the times to come.

Any Bible scholar will recognize Scalia’s and Coney’s originalism as isogenesis – the approach to reading and interpreting scripture as it would have been viewed at the time of its writing, rather than as modern humans who no longer herd pigs before which they can throw their jewelry. It is no coincidence that both Coney and Scalia are outspoken, die-hard christian fundamentalists, interpreting our Constitution isogetically, just as they might their beloved scripture.

Consider the parable of the unjust servant who learned his master would soon be “firing” him. He goes to his master’s debtors and has them change the amount they owe the master. When the master learns what the servant has done – acts that to us look like obvious fraud – he praises the servant for being so clever. What the story doesn’t say – because anyone in that time would have understood – is that it was common to inflate a debt above what was actually owed to get around the proscription against charging interest. The law would turn a blind eye to creditors who did this, but at the same time there was an honor system such that a debtor just paid the excess, knowing that if he didn’t, he’d probably never be able to borrow from the creditor again. The servant used this legal fiction against his soon-to-be-ex master to gain favor with prospective new employers. Context is important.

Scalia was unquestionably brilliant; Coney seems likewise intellectually stellar. He loved opera, too, and RBG found sufficient redeeming qualities in him to be his friend, even his “buddy”, and I’ve no doubt that were Coney to be seated on a bench that still included RBG they’d get along famously. But, there were obvious absurdities in his thinking – e.g. torture isn’t “punishment” – that spring up like venomous snakes and bite us all when SCOTUS cases tread on them. We’ve already seen similar absurdities in Coney’s – a wife should submit to her husband. (This begs the question, Are we to assume that her husband will be weighing in on SCOTUS decisions, too?) These originalists live in a past that is constructed more from myth than from fact. They lose sight of the world around them, see only this fairy-tale world to come, and for all their smarts forget where they are, the times they live in, and that there are many ordinary, less brilliant yet seriously vulnerable people out there, who will suffer as a result of their (Scalia et alia) narrow view.

Coney and Scalia see themselves as bringing light to a dark world. Lasers are by definition coherent light – focused, powerful. They do little or nothing, however, to light up a room or the world.