Who Is Amy Coney Barrett?

Abigail Covington
·6 mins read
Photo credit: SOPA Images - Getty Images
Photo credit: SOPA Images - Getty Images

From Esquire

According to the New York Times, on Saturday, President Trump will announce Judge Amy Coney Barnett as his Supreme Court pick. The judge is a favorite among Republicans due to her narrow interpretation of the Constitution, her strict conservative beliefs, and ardently pro-life opinions. Barrett was a frontrunner for the seat that ultimately went to Justice Brett Kavanaugh back in 2018. At the time, Trump said he was “saving Barrett for Ginsburg.”

Ahead of Trump’s formal announcement, here’s a close look at the 48-year-old Supreme Court nominee.

Family and Background

Judge Amy Coney Barrett was born on January 28, 1972, in New Orleans, Louisiana to Linda and Michael Coney. Her father was a prominent lawyer for Shell Oil. The oldest of seven children, Barrett grew up in Metairie, a wealthy suburb of New Orleans, and graduated magna cum laude from Rhodes College in 1994. Barrett then attended University of Notre Dame Law School on a full scholarship and graduated first in her class in 1997. After getting her JD, Barrett moved to Washington D.C. and spent three years as a law clerk—first for Judge Laurence Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, then for Justice Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court.

From 2002 until 2017, Barrett was a professor at her alma mater Notre Dame. She taught courses on constitutional law, federal courts, and statutory interpretation, and served as a member of Faculty for Life, an anti-abortion group for Notre Dame professors. During that time, Barrett also started a family with her husband and fellow Notre Dame alumnus Jesse Barrett. Together the couple has seven children, including two who were adopted from Haiti and one with special needs.

In 2017, Barrett, a devout Roman Catholic, stepped into the national spotlight after President Trump nominated her to serve as a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. During her hearing, Senator Feinstein questioned Barrett’s ability to separate her religious beliefs from her duties as a federal judge, saying infamously, “the dogma lives loudly within you, and that is a concern.” Despite Feinstein’s concerns, Barrett was confirmed by a 55-43 vote, with three Democrats joining Republicans to vote in favor of confirming.

On The Issues

There’s no doubt that, when it comes to the Constitution, Barrett favors a strict interpretation. She’s considered by many to be a “textualist” or an “originalist” — terms used to describe someone who believes in applying the original logic and intentions of the Constitution’s framers to the situation at hand. The late Justice Antonin Scalia was also an originalist. Since being appointed to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Barrett has written over 100 opinions. In describing her judicial record, the Associated Press wrote that it “displayed her clear and consistent conservative bent.”

Abortion

After taking her seat in 2017, Judge Barrett encountered the issue of abortion three times. In each case, she was asked to consider laws that restricted access to abortion in her homestate of Indiana. The laws had been struck down by a three-judge panel, causing the defendants in the lawsuits to petition for rehearings. Barrett repeatedly expressed doubt over the panel’s rulings and joined opinions that voted to grant the rehearings.

In 2018, Judge Barrett joined a dissent concerning a law that banned abortions sought solely because of the sex or disability of a fetus. The law had once again been blocked by a three-judge panel. Barrett’s dissent suggests that, despite women having a consitutional right to abortions, she believes states are legally allowed to restrict abortion access in significant ways. “None of the court’s abortion decisions holds that states are powerless to prevent abortions designed to choose the sex, race and other attributes of children,” reads the dissent.

In 2013, Barrett characterized Roe V. Wade as a settled decision. During her confirmation hearings for the Seventh Circuit seat, Barrett expressed similar opinions, insisting that as a judge, she wouldn’t impose her religious beliefs on established law. In response to Feinstein’s dogma comment, Barrett responded, "If you're asking whether I take my Catholic faith seriously, I do, though I would stress that my personal church affiliation or my religious belief would not bear on the discharge of my duties as a judge."

Guns

While on the 7th Circuit, Barrett, in a dissenting opinion, considered a Wisconsin law that prohibited anyone convicted of a felony (even if it was a non-violent felony such as mail fraud) from owning a gun, to be unconstitutional. In expressing her opinion, Barrett suggested that the Second Amendment did not necessarily ban people convicted of felonies from owning a gun.

“History is consistent with common sense: it demonstrates that legislatures have the power to prohibit dangerous people from possessing guns. But that power extends only to people who are dangerous. Founding-era legislatures did not strip felons of the right to bear arms simply because of their status as felons," wrote Barrett in her 37-page dissent.

Healthcare

Just one week after the election, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on the latest legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act. That’s perhaps the main reason President Trump and Senator McConell are in such a hurry to confirm Judge Barrett. With Justice Ginsburg on the court, it was highly unlikely that this new case would have any success in further dismantling the Affordable Care Act. But with a consevative addition like Barrett, the chances are now much greater—especially since she has already made clear her unfavorable opinion of Obamacare.

In a 2017 law review article, Judge Barrett criticized Chief Justice Roberts’ 2012 decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act. At the time, Roberts argued that the law’s individual mandate, which required people to pay a financial penalty if they didn’t obtain insurance, was legal because it was a tax. “The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.”

According to Judge Barrett, the Chief Justice stretched too far in his interpretation of the individual mandate. "Chief Justice Roberts pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute,” wrote Barrett in her 2017 article. “He construed the penalty imposed on those without health insurance as a tax, which permitted him to sustain the statute as a valid exercise of the taxing power; had he treated the payment as the statute did — as a penalty — he would have had to invalidate the statute as lying beyond Congress's commerce power."

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