Amy Coney Barrett hearings need to be done with respect

The year was 1999 and it was a momentous opportunity. My law school professor was taking our class to observe oral argument in the Supreme Court. As a bonus, we would lunch with Justice Antonin Scalia post-argument. Our professor was the esteemed Nathan Lewin, close personal friend of the justice and someone who actually graduated ahead of Justice Scalia at Harvard Law School.As a rabbinical student and a law student, I was fascinated by Scalia’s textual approach to the Constitution. In my study of Talmud, I was rigorously trained to have fidelity toward text and not superimpose my feelings or thoughts on to the text. The study of Torah is an exercise in submission not imposition. To observe Scalia’s similar exercise of constitutional restraint was fascinating and exhilarating.I followed Scalia with reverence and awe until his unexpected passing a few years ago.However, one detail about his life slipped my notice until the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Apparently, Scalia and Ginsburg were the very best of friends; a relationship that dated back to their time together on the DC Court of Appeals.This information was jarring and shocking. I went back to watch a video of Justice Ginsburg speaking at a memorial service for Scalia and heard her relate that President Bill Clinton asked for Scalia’s input on two leading male candidates to replace Justice Byron White. Without hesitation, Scalia interjected the name Ruth Bader Ginsburg as his preference for a colleague on the court. Justice Ginsburg got the call from President Clinton a few days later.The recent nomination of Amy Coney Barrett is striking against this backdrop; a former clerk and close disciple of Scalia who likely will replace the trailblazer Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Although not sharing the Ginsburg judicial philosophy, she certainly is respected and pioneering in her own right.I don’t anticipate Judge Barrett being treated during confirmation hearings with the collegiality displayed between her mentor and the justice she hopes to replace. The rancor and enmity that dominates the politics of the day makes that an impossibility.I do hope the link and bridge that Judge Barrett represents can be a teaching moment.MANY YEARS ago, I was dropped by a trusted mentor for expressing a public viewpoint that he found abhorrent to his Weltanschauung. After months of his cold shoulder, when pressed, he explained that he couldn’t have a relationship with someone of my ilk. One wrong utterance and I was canceled forever.In Jewish History, we have experienced two distinct temples in Jerusalem. The First Temple was destroyed due to cardinal iniquities between man and God. Only 70 years later the Temple was rebuilt. The Second Temple was destroyed due to baseless hatred between people. Although religiously fervent for God, that generation lacked interpersonal respect and tact. Amazingly, that Temple, despite the passing of thousands of years, still isn’t rebuilt.It’s like a father who can’t stand when his beloved children don’t get along, God abhors when we aren’t respectful of one another. He will sooner overlook being derelict directly with Him than with our fellow man.Scalia and Ginsburg understood that opposites attract, that people with diverse world views can enrich the experiences of one another and help sharpen perspectives by honestly, respectfully and curiously challenging divergent views. They also understood that people are distinct from their points of view. After all the arguments, at the core we are all part of the human race with so much more that binds than divides.It is a sad reality that I was shocked to learn of the relationship between these polar opposite judicial giants. During her remarks for Scalia at that memorial service, Ginsburg also mentioned that Justice William Brennan, a liberal leader of the court, was a great admirer of Justice Scalia.We just don’t hear color commentary like that anymore.We look to our Supreme Court justices as the final arbiters of the law in our country. Maybe we can also look to these former members of the court as models of etiquette and understanding of the human experience. They lived richer lives because they understood a basic point: There can be no philosophy that trumps human decency.

Rabbi Dovid M. Cohen, a graduate of Columbia Law School, is a senior relationship officer at the Orthodox Union, and the leader of Congregation Ohr Torah in North Woodmere, NY. He is the author of We’re Almost There: Living with Patience, Perseverance and Purpose (Mosaica Press, 2016).



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