• Amy Martin

The Mother of All Lies

Updated: Oct 17, 2020

If you hadn’t heard, U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is a mother. And the mother of seven—yes, seven!—school-aged children. How do we know? Republican senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee told us during her confirmation hearings this week: ad nauseam.

Senators including Mike Lee (R-UT), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Josh Hawley (R-MO), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) all praised Barrett as a “maternal Wonder Woman in judicial robes,” in the words of Robin Givhan of The Washington Post. She is a “tireless mother of seven,” a “working mother of seven,” a “remarkable mother.” Senator Ernst took the maternity-obsession further, accusing Democrats of “attacking” Barrett “as a mom.”

Even Dianne Feinstein, the Committee’s Ranking Member (D-Calif.), asked Barrett right out of the gate to introduce her children.

As a suburban mother of four, I suspect I am a card-carrying member of the target audience for this fantastical political theater. I suspect the GOP is reeling from the loss of suburban women voters—who are turning their backs on the Republican Party in droves—and is lionizing Barrett in an effort to draw suburban women back into the fold. Barrett is a woman, a legal mind, a mother (of seven!); she sets an example for working mothers everywhere.

See, American moms? You can have it all!

But the appeal is tone-deaf.

I’m turned off by senators’ persistent references to Barrett’s motherhood. They reek of sexism, hypocrisy, and bad faith. We don’t sanctify male nominees for their exemplification of working parenthood. Only women receive this rather dubious treatment.

It’s even harder to take given that this paragon of maternal virtue has accepted her nomination from an administration that has separated infants and children from their mothers at the border.

The overwhelming emphasis on Barrett’s maternity perniciously suggests that her being a working mother of multiple children is all the evidence we need to place her on the Supreme Court. “It’s not unusual for the judiciary committee to mention a nominee’s parental status,” writes Jill Filipovic in The Guardian. “What is unusual, though, is to have every member of one party bring it up, often more than once, and even emphasize it as a qualification for the bench.”

Childbearing has no moral, ethical, or judicial value and tells us nothing about Barrett’s theory or philosophy of law. It is Barrett’s jurisprudence, not her fecundity, that is relevant.

And, in fact, there is substantial evidence to conclude that her placement on the Supreme Court would be disastrous for women, for women with children, and for working families. Her writings and rulings suggest that she will be a vote to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, reduce women’s bodily autonomy, restrict access to women’s reproductive health services, and roll back women’s rights for decades.

"Five Steps to Save the ACA Before It's Too Late" /Photo: Sejal Singh

Stripping women and families of health care and forcing women to give birth involuntarily will do nothing to help American mothers.

Moms are already struggling to balance work and parenting, especially during the pandemic. I am among them. Holding Barrett up as an icon of acceptable American motherhood serves only to make women, especially those without Barrett’s many advantages, feel like they have to be everything to everyone at all times. It’s beyond galling to think that a woman who has it all will soon do everything in her power to stop other women from having any of it.

The GOP is out of step with the majority of American women, who want to be evaluated for positions in the public sphere based on their qualifications, not their fertility. Republicans' idealized version of motherhood is a lie; it is, in fact, the mother of all lies.


  1. “Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett has seven kids. And don’t you dare forget it”, Robin Givhan https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/10/12/supreme-court-nominee-amy-coney-barrett-has-seven-kids-dont-you-dare-forget-it/

  2. “Amy Coney Barrett’s day one hearing was rank hypocrisy from start to finish” By Jill Filipovic https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/oct/13/amy-coney-barrett-hearing-us-supreme-court

  3. "We Need to Take Away Children, No Matter How Young, Justice Dept. Officials Said" By Michael D. Shear, Katie Benner, and Michael S. Schmidt https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/06/us/politics/family-separation-border-immigration-jeff-sessions-rod-rosenstein.html

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