Cancelling Barrett Makes Us As Bad As She Is

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Hundreds of publishing professionals have signed an open letter demanding that Penguin Random House terminate its 2021 contract to publish Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s new book—because she voted to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“This is not just a book that we disagree with, and we are not calling for censorship,” the open letter says. More than 550 editors, writers, and others call the deal “a case where a corporation has privately funded the destruction of human rights [abortion] with obscene profits.”

Let me be clear: Barrett is a religious fanatic who was only nominated to the Court through cynical political maneuvering by Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump. In her Senate confirmation hearing, Barrett lied about how she would approach Roe v Wade. Her decision in Dobbs v Jackson inviting dozens of states to criminalize almost all abortions is a horrible reversal of a half-century of human rights.

In short, she was a danger as a federal circuit judge, and is even more dangerous now.

But prevent the publication of her book because some people (who happen to work in the publishing industry) disagree with her position on public policy? That’s an even bigger danger to our republic.

The open-letter signers describe themselves as pro-choice, right? How about giving the reading public a choice—rather than deciding what they’re allowed to read?

The petition organizers say “it isn’t about censorship.” Really? What do you call it when viewpoint determines a publisher’s and an author’s rights? This is exactly what goes on in gangster-run countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Russia.

For several hundred years, American publishing has been extremely imperfect—and a jewel of world civilization. Whether forced by the courts, enticed by the public, or persuaded by its own conscience, it has a proud history of publishing books guaranteed to lose money or attract trouble, or both.


Cheapening the industry by using it to punish unpopular views (or popular views, for that matter) may feel good to moral entrepreneurs, but it damages the larger political architecture that all progressives (and millions of other Americans) depend on.

If this pre-publication suppression is effective, what can we say when a different group of people strongly object to publishing Nancy Pelosi’s memoirs? If those hypothetical activists said that Pelosi has blood on her hands that shouldn’t be rewarded by a publisher, wouldn’t many people call that censorship?

For a real-world example, look at the huge number of kids’ books (primarily about sexuality, gender, and sexual orientation) currently being tossed out of school libraries by religious and right-wing activists. We call their actions censorship, while they call it “parental involvement” and even “child protection.”

These censorship efforts are part of the two-centuries-long battle waged by religious and anti-sexual pressure groups, aligned with government officials, to restrict what Americans have been allowed to see, hear, and read.

That conflict, and related conflicts involving this or that self-righteous group attempting to control media availability for the entire country, is more important than anything—because it’s about the fundamental nature of society.

Prediction: When the Right gets hold of the protest against Barrett’s publishing contract, they’ll use it to paint liberals and eastern elites as hypocritical devotees of Cancel Culture. And they’ll be right.

I hope nobody buys Barrett’s book. I hope it’s terribly written and gets a scathingly fair review. I also hope that the tidal wave of restrictions on abortion is reversed as soon as possible, and that anyone who wants an abortion for any reason at any point in pregnancy can get one.

But no, do not prevent Barrett’s work from being published. We need to offer Americans (and the world) a vision of the civilized world that is better than that—where ideas aren’t locked up because they’re “dangerous,” or because they come from a person who believes differently than we do—and has influence over public policy. Influence, of course, that we wish we had.

Barratt has helped take away an option from tens of millions of women and couples. Let’s not stoop to her level and take away an option from her and her would-be readers.


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