During the confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Democrats have desperately sought to avoid another moment like Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) notorious attack on Barrett’s faith — “The dogma lives loudly within you.” Yet on Tuesday, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) used talking points from the scandal-plagued and discredited far-left smear factory the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to demonize Barrett for her brief association with a conservative Christian law firm.
Leahy noted that Barrett spoke to the Blackstone Legal Fellowship, a program run by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a mainstream conservative Christian law firm that has achieved 11 victories at the Supreme Court since 2011 and has played roles in 60 Supreme Court victories over the last quarter-century. Leahy went on to demonize ADF, using smears leveled by the SPLC.
“Are you aware of ADF’s decades-long efforts to recriminalize homosexuality?” Leahy asked.
“I am not aware of those efforts, no,” Barrett responded.
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Leahy cited an ADF brief in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which struck down laws against homosexual activity including sodomy. He also claimed that ADF “celebrated when India restored a law punishing sodomy.” He accused ADF of “working to criminalize people for loving a person that they are in love with.”
Barrett responded, “My experience with the Blackstone Legal Fellowship was a wonderful one. It gathers the best and brightest Christian law students from around the country. … Nothing about any of my interactions with anyone involved in the Blackstone program were ever indicative of any kind of discrimination on the basis of anything.”
ADF responded to Leahy’s accusations on Twitter.
“No, [Senator Leahy]. ADF has never supported the passage of any laws criminalizing homosexuality, has never supported and unequivocally condemns the forced sterilization of every person,” the organization tweeted. “Contrary to [the] accusation from [Leahy], [ADF] is respected Supreme Court advocate & majority of [the Senate Judiciary Committee]’s members have joined friend of the court briefs in its cases before [the Supreme Court].”
These accusations against ADF trace back to the SPLC, which accuses ADF of being a “hate group,” placing it on a list including the Ku Klux Klan. This accusation carries weight because the SPLC gained notoriety for suing the KKK and related groups into bankruptcy. In recent decades, the SPLC has expanded its “hate group” accusation to include mainstream conservative and Christian organizations.
This past March, the SPLC fired its co-founder, had its president step down, had a prominent member of the board distance herself, and had a former employee reveal that the “hate group” list is a cynical fundraising scam. The scandal broke out due to accusations of (decades-old) racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Yet, little more than two months later, the SPLC was out comparing itself to the Underground Railroad.
The SPLC’s false accusations of “hate” have inspired at least one attempted terrorist attack. A man tried to kill everyone at a conservative Christian nonprofit due to the SPLC’s “hate group” accusation, intending to shoot everyone in the building and place a Chick-fil-A sandwich by his or her head.
Even left-leaning legal experts who agree with the SPLC on many issues have rebuked the organization for demonizing ADF as a “hate group.”
Nadine Strossen, former president of the ACLU, wrote, “An organization whose overall work I admire and support, the Southern Poverty Law Center, has labeled ADF a ‘hate group.’ I respectfully dissent from this label.” She warned that “such a condemnatory blanket classification … suppresses conversations we need to have and voices that should be heard.”
Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, also condemned the accusation. “In my long years of fighting for what’s Constitutionally right, I’ve come to personally know several senior ADF lawyers extremely well. Their religiously-based legal positions, I and MRFF TOTALLY reject. However, their integrity, compassion, character, empathy, honor, and concern for their fellow humans I will steadfastly affirm. I have seen it and I have lived it,” he wrote. Rather than a “hate group,” he said he considers ADF “dear friends.”
Democrats should stop relying on the SPLC as an arbiter of hate, and they should stop referencing this discredited smear factory in order to attack Amy Coney Barrett.