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Saturday, September 24, 2022

Rhodes Alumni Launch Campaign to Remove Justice Barrett from School’s Hall of Fame – JONATHAN TURLEY

Rhodes College

The petition by an alumni group at Rhodes College is seeking to remove Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett from the school’s “Hall of Fame” due to her vote in the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade. The petition accuses Barrett of violating the school’s honor code by testifying untruthfully in her confirmation hearing. In reality, the letter engages in gross misrepresentations of her testimony in the latest attack on her character and honesty. It is a letter that should be condemned by people regardless of their view of reproductive rights.  The letter also declares Justice Barrett to be a threat to democracy because she holds opposing views on constitutional interpretation.

The petition is directed to the school’s president Jennifer Collins and Director of Community Standards Richard Adams. While the signatories insists that they were “impelled” to write the letter, this is just the latest such letter targeting Barrett. Three alumni that listed as original authors or sponsors: Rob Marus, ’97, Katherine Morgan Breslin, ’98, and Kimberly Pillsbury Steele, ‘98.

According to the letter, the signatories’ “firm belief in the Rhodes Honor Code we all signed impels us to make this request.” However, Rob Marus and Katherine Morgan Breslin also authored a letter in 2020 opposing the confirmation of Barrett as “diametrically opposed to the values of truth, loyalty, and service that we learned at Rhodes.”

Rob Marus started a Facebook group opposing her appointment to the Supreme Court. Marus appears to be the Associate Vice President for Communications at Association of American Universities (AAU) where he handles “AAU’s writing and messaging, ensuring message consistency and clarity as well as utility in reaching AAU’s strategic communications goals.” (An inquiry was sent to Marus to confirm that he is indeed one of the main sponsors of this petition).

Marus was not writing in his capacity as a VP of the AAU and has every right to speak against the justice over the disagreement on these issues. However, if this is the same Rob Marus, it is surprising to see someone holding a high position in an academic organization at the head of a campaign to sanction a justice for holding opposing views (particularly based on such false claims). The AAU is premised on principles of academic freedom and free speech. The use of such false and misleading attacks to sanction a graduate undermines those principles.

These signatories seek to sanction Barrett for holding opposing views on issues that have divided the court and the legal profession for decades.

The latest letter repeats the false claim that Barrett misled the Senate on her views on Roe. To invoke the honor code to make such a false claim truly captures the sense of impunity exhibited by many critics today. The irony is that the opposite is true about Barrett’s answers which were more substantive than her predecessors.

At the time, I wrote that Barrett was refreshingly and surprisingly honest about her judicial philosophy and approach to Roe. She specifically rejected the claim that Roe constitutes “super precedent.” Barrett said that this term “define[s] cases that are so well settled that no political actors and no people seriously push for their overruling. And I’m answering a lot of questions about Roe, which I think indicates that Roe doesn’t fall in that category.” (Notably, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson took the same position against Roe as super precedent.).

Moreover some of these same Rhodes alumni opposed Barrett because her view of Roe was clearly critical. Indeed, senators lined up to vote against her on that very basis.

In the letter, the alumni declare  “It was, at best, disingenuous of Justice Barrett to admit that she did not believe Roe to be a ‘super-precedent’ yet then suggest that did not mean the case ‘should’ be overruled, despite clearly adhering to a legal philosophy that would obviously lead her to rule against Roe.” That statement perfectly captures the vacuous quality of these points. There is nothing disingenuous in saying that a case is not super-precedent but still might not be overturned. The point is only that the case is protected by the same principles of a stare decisis as other cases, which affords protection to precedent but does not make such cases inviolate. Barrett’s statement was refreshingly honest and accurate.

The alumni group also accuses Justice Barrett of being “one of the biggest current threats to our fundamental rights, the stability of our nation, and our democracy.” So the mere fact that Justice Barrett shares a view of constitutional interpretation with millions of other citizens (and many judges and lawyers), she is now a threat to our democracy?

The use of clearly false allegations in the name of upholding the honor system does not seem to concern these signatories. Yet, it is Justice Barrett who is accused of “an egregious lack of fidelity with the Rhodes Honor System.” They use the allegations to demand that “Justice Barrett be removed from the Rhodes College Hall of Fame based on the above violations of the Rhodes Honor System.”

Rhodes College should celebrate that it played a role in the education of a woman who has achieved such great success in the law regardless of disagreements with her constitutional views or positions. We can have passionate debates on those issues while showing mutual respect and civility.

That has not been the case at Rhodes College where Justice Barrett’s portraits have been repeatedly defaced. One had the words “Go F*ck Yourself” scribbled on it. Another featured Barrett as the devil, along with more profane language.

These alumni fuel such anger with these unfounded and reckless attacks. This is a controversy that should be a clarion call for the entire Rhodes College community. This is a wonderful school with an excellent academic reputation. People of good-faith should have the courage to stand with Justice Barrett as an alumna regardless of their agreement or disagreement with her views.

As a professor and a jurist, Barrett has written on these issues for decades with comprehensive and at times profound observations on how to approach constitutional interpretation. We can disagree on those conclusions while condemning those who seek to slander or cancel her.



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