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Can Amy Coney Barrett's Nomination To The Supreme Court Be A Win For Democrats?

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court, embodies a set of voters who are essential to the Democratic Party. She is an educated Catholic suburban woman, but she also holds highly conservative views. Therefore, her nomination presents a problem for Democrats - how to challenge her views without alienating those voters - that is, Catholic women. Joining us now to talk about this is NPR's Tom Gjelten. Hey, Tom.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: All right, so let's start with Barrett's Catholicism. How do you think voters are responding to that?

GJELTEN: Well, there are a couple of big issues, I think, associated with her Catholicism, Ailsa. First of all, her family life - she's got seven children. She brought them with her to the hearing. And secondly, her well-documented opposition to abortion rights - those are views that resonate with those Catholics who call themselves pro-life. Now...

CHANG: Right.

GJELTEN: ...You know, about half of Catholics support abortion rights, but that also means half oppose abortion. And among them are some women who are young and generally progressive politically. I spoke today with one of those women. Ashley McKinless is her name. She's a columnist for the America Magazine, which is a Jesuit publication. Here's what she told me what - about what Amy Coney Barrett means to her.

ASHLEY MCKINLESS: To see those values represented by a woman at the highest levels of the U.S. government has been moving for me. It's not the typical person we talk about when we have conversations about feminism, but I do see my own pro-life feminism reflected in her.

CHANG: Interesting. Well, how are Democrats reaching people like Ashley McKinless?

GJELTEN: Well, first of all, Joe Biden is, of course, a Catholic. That's really important. But I have to say, in some ways, Democrats are not reaching people like her. Ashley is 30 years old. She tells me she feels politically homeless. And I've spoken to other women who feel this way as well. She's politically progressive, attuned to the Democratic Party in many ways, but also feeling somewhat alienated from it.

MCKINLESS: The shift of the Democratic Party to become more and more secular and more and more extremist in terms of its abortion policies has left progressive religious people with (laughter) only so much they can contribute to the conversation. And so if you want to be taken seriously on the left and you're a person of faith, it doesn't seem like talking about issues beyond things like the economy and immigration is going to be very fruitful.

CHANG: Hmm. Well, has Judge Barrett said anything in particular during this week's hearings that address concerns of young Catholic women?

GJELTEN: You know, she's been very careful not to talk about her policy positions. We, of course, know that she's been very critical of the Affordable Care Act. She has endorsed a number of positions that her mentor, Justice Antonin Scalia, who was also a Catholic, held. But if we go back to her opening statement on Monday at the start of her confirmation hearings, she started out by talking about her family.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMY CONEY BARRETT: As I said when I was nominated to serve as a justice, I'm used to being in a group of nine - my family. Nothing is more important to me, and I'm very proud to have them behind me.

GJELTEN: And the fact, Ailsa, that she's been so successful professionally while also staying close to her family is something a lot of women may be inspired by, and that is a view that could appeal to those young women who want to have both successful professional careers, also strong family values. So Democrats have to thread a needle here. They can oppose Judge Barrett for being conservative while not suggesting that they're critical of her for being Catholic, for having a large family or even for her anti-abortion views.

CHANG: That is NPR's Tom Gjelten. Thank you, Tom.

GJELTEN: Of course. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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