In 2017, then-Senator Al Franken asked federal judicial nominee, Professor Amy Coney Barrett, a simple question: What is the nature of your relationship with the far-right legal advocacy organization Alliance Defending Freedom? At the time, Barrett pleaded ignorance about ADF’s sustained campaigns against LGBTQ people both in the United States and abroad.
“I’m invited to give a lot of talks as a law professor and it is not—I don’t know what all of ADF’s policy positions are,” Barrett told Franken. “It has never been my practice to investigate all of the policy positions of a group that invites me to speak.”
Now Barrett is President Donald Trump’s nominee to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. This time Senate Democrats have a deeper understanding of Barrett’s concerning history with ADF, an organization labeled an “anti-LGBT hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. They must use that understanding to put Barrett on the record about her long-time involvement with ADF, and its disturbing history of stridently anti-LGBTQ activism.
ADF’s record of anti-LGBTQ advocacy is beyond dispute: a study by news magazine Religion & Politics found that over 20 percent of ADF’s public advocacy involved fighting against same-sex marriage. Another 20 percent opposed legal abortion. Nearly half of ADF’s work focused on “religious liberty” issues, an umbrella category that includes ADF’s legal lobbying to gut the Affordable Care Act.
The conservative legal minds at ADF have been intimately involved in everything from Hobby Lobby’s successful efforts to carve out a “religious exemption” to offering contraception under the ACA to defending Colorado business Masterpiece Cakeshop in its quest to deny service to gay and lesbian couples seeking a wedding cake.
But this is no run-of-the-mill right-wing legal group: Alan Sears, who led the ADF until 2017, openly compared gay and lesbian activists to “Nazis,” and likened the social recognition of gay and lesbians to a “new promotion of pedophilia.” And even as the organization rushed to sanitize its image in the wake of Barrett’s rise to conservative legal stardom, ADF has been unrelenting in its attacks on LGBTQ protections.
In the United States, their advocacy has called for the recriminalization of homosexuality and the reinstatement of legalized workplace discrimination against gay, lesbian, and transgender workers. Abroad, ADF unsuccessfully defended a French law that required chemical sterilization of transgender Europeans seeking to have their gender legally recognized.
In a press release that has since vanished from the ADF website but draws from a publicly available ADF international court filing, the organization’s legal team made clear their goal was to deny “self-determination” to transgender Europeans seeking recognition. “Such a right to self-determination is not defined and would hold an indeterminable scope which would be by definition incompatible with the states interests and the rights of others,” ADF argued.
Barrett told Franken in 2017 that she had no idea ADF was involved in these legal ploys, saying only that the designation of ADF as a hate group was “controversial” and that she personally “did not have that impression of ADF.”
But available facts paint a picture of an active pipeline between Notre Dame Law School, where Barrett taught, and ADF fellowships and staff roles. In fact, it can be a challenge to find a conservative professor in Notre Dame’s legal program who hasn’t built a long-term relationship with ADF.
Barrett’s close relationship to ADF comes through her paid work with the organization’s Blackstone Legal Fellowship, which has trained over 2,400 conservative law students in the tactics of masking anti-LGBTQ legal attacks under the guise of “religious liberty” casework. In 2017, Barrett argued her involvement with ADF was limited to lecturing Blackstone Fellows—not engaging in any of ADF’s foundational work of terrorizing the global LGBTQ community.
But here’s how the Blackstone Fellowship described itself in a now-disappeared section of their website:
“Alliance Defending Freedom seeks to recover the robust Christendomic theology of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries,” the page read. “This is catholic, universal orthodoxy and it is desperately crucial for cultural renewal. Christians must strive to build glorious cultural cathedrals, rather than shanty tin sheds.”
Notre Dame’s law school has successfully placed an average of four students in competitive Blackstone Legal Fellowships every year since the early 2000s when the program featured only 24 fellows. Many Notre Dame fellows passed through the Blackstone program after working as teaching aides or research assistants to two professors: Amy Coney Barrett and her lifelong friend and booster Richard Garnett.
Garnett wears multiple hats in the conservative legal community: he serves as both the Director of the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School, and also a paid part of ADF’s legal faculty. He’s also a regular defender of Barrett in the press, often in stories that include quotes from other ADF sources that seek to portray criticism of Barrett’s involvement in ADF as an attack on her Catholic faith.
Does anyone believe Barrett “didn’t know” about ADF’s policy proposals? After five years delivering paid lectures, years funneling students into ADF feeder programs, and cheering on lifelong friends who obtained faculty and advisory roles at ADF, does the Senate Judiciary Committee buy the fantasy that Barrett simply had no idea ADF—and some of her closest friends— were peddling vehemently anti-LGBTQ legal advocacy?
At her 2017 confirmation hearing, Barrett told Franken that she was “now generally aware” multiple organizations categorize ADF as a far-right hate group masquerading as a buttoned-up conservative legal advocacy organization. Yet in the three years since, she has never said whether she finds anything in ADF’s portfolio especially condemnable. Her silence speaks volumes.
Franken was right to push Barrett on her long-time relationship with ADF in 2017 but didn’t go far enough. Senate Democrats must demand Barrett explain in her own words the anti-LGBTQ, pro-sterilization legal arguments of an organization she has long supported with paid speeches and a university-supported pipeline of young, conservative legal talent. Democrats must uncover what of ADF’s radical agenda Barrett believes, and what poison she was willing to humor for a paycheck.
With Republicans sacrificing their integrity to rubber-stamp any Trump nominee, the task falls to Democrats to protect the integrity of our Supreme Court.