"A boundless font of energy and a radical sense of love": Laura Wolk's powerful character witness testimony in Barrett hearing

We knew this was coming, and more importantly, Democrats knew this was coming. Appellate attorney Laura Wolk credits Amy Coney Barrett with helping her succeed in law school, not just because of her skills as a teacher but because of her character as a human being. Wolk, who is blind, requires special adaptive technology to study and work, and while at Notre Dame, her equipment failed and the university’s promised support didn’t materialize, putting her education and prospective career at risk.

John wrote about Wolk’s story and her support of Barrett earlier, but this five-minute appearance deserves to be seen for itself again as Wolk testified in the confirmation hearing:

“Overnight, I found myself struggling to keep up in class, following increasingly behind with each passing hour. I needed help and I needed it fast,” Wolk said. “I had been Judge Barrett’s student only for a few weeks, but her graciousness and warmth gave me hope that she could provide me with that assistance.”

And Wolk was right, she said, as she found an incredibly compassionate listener in her teacher. She felt the unusual sense of disarming that even allowed her to ask for assistance, something she said as a disabled person, she rarely did.

“When I finished, Judge Barrett looked at me intently, ‘Laura,’ she said, with the same measured conviction we have seen her display through her nomination process, ‘this is no longer your problem. It is my problem.'”

“I cannot capture adequately the relief that washed over me at her words,” Wolk said. Though through her experience in life, she still remained skeptical of Barrett’s generous offer. She had been let down before after similar offers.

“Not so with Judge Barrett,” Wolk said. “Anyone who has interacted with her knows that she is a woman of her word. She means what she says, and she says what she means.” Wolk pointed out, as a testament to Barrett’s humility, she still doesn’t know what her teacher did to make sure that the needed technology promptly found its way to her.

First, let me just note that I relate to this in a personal way. My wife is also blind, and has been for forty years. She uses adaptive technology to do the many tasks the rest of us take for granted — e-mail, web surfing, messaging, and so on. When those systems fail or don’t keep up, the burden on her is tremendous. Equipment and software hiccups are mainly annoyances for the sighted, but issues with adaptive technology for the blind are sidelining events, and even worse isolating events. Wolk’s success is a powerful testament to her own determination and character in overcoming those issues to excel in an objectively difficult field under any circumstances, which makes her endorsement of Barrett even more powerful. My wife does that in her own way every single day, too.

From the perspective of political strategy, one has to wonder whether Wolk’s appearance on the witness list had an impact on Senate Democrats’ strategy this week. They have refrained from character attacks on Barrett of the type used against Brett Kavanaugh, likely for multiple reasons, not the least of which was that it ended up backfiring in that instance in the end. For the most part, Senate Democrats avoided trying to paint Barrett as an extremist or focus on her religion, instead choosing mainly to attack the process and paint her as evasive on issues. That will prove to be the safest and smartest course in the long run regardless of motivation, especially given the futility of any efforts to stop the confirmation at this point. I’ll have more than that in an upcoming post.

Put all that aside for a moment, though. This was a shining moment in a process that has become degraded over the last three decades, and a reminder that character matters more than ideology, party identification, and identity issues. It’s not out of the question that we might see Laura Wolk, Appellate Attorney return to a future Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation process, not as a witness but as a nominee for a position herself. That would be a fine day indeed as a testament to the nation and to the people.