National Catholic Register: When President Trump named William Barr as his nominee for U.S. attorney general, the news brought a sense of relief to Republican lawmakers eager for a seasoned leader at the helm of a troubled Justice Department.
Barr, 68, is an experienced corporate lawyer and a committed Catholic who served from 1991 to 93 as U.S. attorney general under President George H.W. Bush. Earlier in his government career, he worked on domestic-policy issues for the Reagan White House, and then, under President Bush, he led the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, before moving up the chain of command to deputy attorney general and then the top job in the department.
“Barr is a person of tremendous distinction and accomplishment,” said Leonard Leo, the executive vice-president for the Federalist Society, the legal organization that has played a major role in the Trump White House’s recruitment of originalist jurists to the federal bench.
As a former U.S. attorney general, Barr “will enter the Justice Department with an awful lot of credibility and respect for the role he previously played,” Leo told the Register.
“He has a candid and no-nonsense management style, which is something the department could benefit from.”
Barr is expected to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate. And Republican Party lawmakers are reportedly very keen for him to take up the reins of the Justice Department during a turbulent period that witnessed the forced resignation of former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in early November and legal challenges to the appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general on the grounds that he cannot lead the department without being confirmed by the Senate.
But Democratic lawmakers and their progressive allies have raised questions about the nominee’s record and public statements on executive power, immigration and separation of church and state, among other issues. They note that Barr has publicly critiqued the special counsel investigation department, and they are worried that he won’t stand up to an autocratic president.
“Mr. Barr must commit — at a minimum — under oath before the Senate to two important things: first, that the special counsel’s investigation will proceed unimpeded and, second, that the special counsel’s final report will be made available to Congress and the public immediately upon completion,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said after Barr’s nomination was announced.
Meanwhile, liberal commentators have described the nominee’s beliefs — some culled from speeches that date back a decade or more — as “extreme.”
“Theocracy alert: Trump’s Attorney General Pick William Barr is a Catholic conservative who rejects the separation of church and state, calls secularists ‘fanatics,’ and blames secularism for ‘moral decline,’” warned Michael Stone, who blogs at “Progressive Secular Humanist” on Patheos.com, citing Barr’s 2011 address criticizing the impact of secularization in public schools.
The campaign to present Barr’s legal opinions as outside the political mainstream reflects a strategy by Democrats and their progressive allies, who have sought to make the Obama Justice Department’s policies on immigration, religious freedom, abortion and other hot-button issues the established standard by which Trump’s agenda should be measured and judged.
“William Barr’s nomination sends a message… [that] the Trump administration will continue to use the Department of Justice to rollback our fundamental rights,” warned NARAL Pro-Choice America in a statement that cited Barr’s past critique of Roe v. Wade…
But if Schumer and abortion activists are eager to challenge Barr’s credentials as the nation’s top law enforcement official, pro-life and religious-freedom advocates are celebrating his nomination.
Gerard Bradley, a professor at the University of Notre Dame School of Law, told the Register that Barr’s nomination was “welcome news,” and he singled out a key speech he gave two decades ago that “spoke frankly about matters of culture, morality and law.”
Barr “criticized the Supreme Court’s ‘wall of separation’ as a judge-made doctrine tantamount to secularism. He was quite right,” said Bradley.
“Barr also criticized the ‘wall’ as a departure from the Founders’ constitutional design, which was to promote religion in order to help the churches cultivate in citizens the virtue necessary to sustain a free society.”
Groups opposing his nomination believe that Barr should “repudiate” his unfashionable opinions, said Bradley, but he hopes that Barr will retain his clear-eyed diagnosis of the problems that beset American culture and the rule of law.
Said Bradley: “It is precisely because he sees so clearly the decay in our culture and the distortions in much of our law that he will make a fine attorney general.”
“The dignitaries of church and state will unite to bribe, persuade, or compel all classes to honor the Sunday. The lack of divine authority will be supplied by oppressive enactments. Political corruption is destroying love of justice and regard for truth; and even in free America, rulers and legislators, in order to secure public favor, will yield to the popular demand for a law enforcing Sunday observance. Liberty of conscience, which has cost so great a sacrifice, will no longer be respected.” The Great Controversy, page 592.