Amy Coney Barrett: 5 things to know about the Supreme Court nominee

Crystal Hill
·Reporter
·7 mins read

INDIANAPOLIS — President Trump announced Saturday that he is nominating Amy Coney Barrett, a respected jurist and conservative favorite, to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.

For Republicans, Barrett checks several boxes. At 48, she would be the youngest justice on the bench and the fifth female justice in the history of the court. Her previous writings indicate that she subscribes to originalism — the belief, in the words of Justice Neil Gorsuch, that “the Constitution’s original meaning is fixed.” She currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which she joined after a rigorous confirmation process in 2017.

During the Supreme Court nomination process, though, she’ll likely face tough opposition from Senate Democrats, some of whom are already critical of her potential appointment.

“She stands for all the things Ruth Bader Ginsburg was against,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told Yahoo News at a press conference last Sunday. “And so many things that the vast majority of the American people are against.”

The White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had said they’re confident they’ll secure enough votes to confirm whoever Trump chooses, and have made it clear that they will not wait until after the election. And as Yahoo News’ Jon Ward has reported, McConnell has told Trump he believes Barrett is the best pick for the court. Here’s what you should know about the federal judge.

Law and religion

A Louisiana native, Barrett is a graduate of Rhodes College and the University of Notre Dame Law School, where she began teaching in 2002. She and her husband, Jesse Barrett, a South Bend, Ind., lawyer who formerly served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Indiana, have seven kids, including two who were adopted.

She is a member of the Federalist Society, the conservative judicial organization that has been influential in Trump’s judicial picks.

Barrett is a devout Catholic, and although she has stated that she doesn’t believe a judge’s religion or moral code should influence their rulings, some lawmakers have found her past views on religion and the law problematic.

In September 2017, Barrett, then a nominee for the Seventh Circuit, faced scrutiny stemming from a law review article on the death penalty that she co-authored as a law student in 1998. The article suggested that Catholic judges can and perhaps should recuse themselves from cases if there’s a moral conflict. However, the article also said that “judges cannot — nor should they try to — align our legal system with the Church’s moral teaching whenever the two diverge.”

The article raised questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee about whether Barrett would be able to separate her religious convictions from application of the law.

“Why is it that so many of us on this side have this very uncomfortable feeling that dogma and law are two different things?” Sen. Dianne Feinstein said at the time. “And I think whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different. And I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you.”

Anti-abortion beliefs

During her tenure as a law professor at Notre Dame, a private Catholic university in South Bend where she spent more than 10 years teaching, Barrett was a member of Faculty of Life, an anti-abortion group, t he ABA Journal reported. In 2013, she said at a Notre Dame event that she believes life begins at conception, Notre Dame Magazine reported.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett speaks during the nomination hearing for the 7th District Court of Appeals before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 6, 2017. (via C-Span)
Judge Amy Coney Barrett at her nomination hearing for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals before the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2017. (Via C-Span)

Speaking about Roe v. Wade in a 2015 article for the Texas Law Review, Barrett seemed to reject the idea that courts should always uphold precedent. When asked about this issue by Feinstein in 2017, however, she said she would follow precedent when deciding a case.

The death of Ginsburg almost immediately sparked concerns that a conservative justice could put the future of Roe v. Wade in doubt. In 2018, when Barrett was reportedly being considered to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy — an appointment that later went to Brett Kavanaugh — critics of her anti-abortion views feared she could play a role in overturning Roe.

Those concerns may not be unfounded, a legal expert told Yahoo News.

“She clerked for Justice [Antonin] Scalia — and we know what he thought about Roe v. Wade,” Steve Sanders, a law professor at Indiana University, said. Barrett clerked for Scalia from 1998 to 1999.

Sanders added that Barrett has been “quoted as saying when she was a law professor that she thought it was more important for judges to vote on the law as they saw it, even if it meant overturning precedent. It’s definitely credible to argue that she is somebody who could vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.”

But Sanders noted that Barrett has not written any opinions explicitly on the issue of abortion rights.

Barrett’s career on the bench

Barrett joined the Seventh Circuit after she was confirmed by the Senate in October 2017. The position is her only experience as a judge. Her relatively short time on the bench could make it more difficult for lawmakers to get a sense of what kind of justice she would be.

“She hasn’t been a judge long enough to really have developed what I would call a distinctive judicial voice,” Sanders, who has been reviewing Barrett’s court opinions and legal writings, told Yahoo News. “And she hasn’t written any attention-getting opinions in prominent cases. Her tenure as a judge has been relatively short to evaluate her in that way. So I think we’re going to have to look to the kinds of things she wrote and said as a legal academic as well.”

People of Praise

Barrett is reportedly a member of People of Praise, a religious group that describes itself as a “charismatic Christian community,” according to its website. The group began in South Bend in 1971 and has since expanded to 22 cities in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean.

According to a New York Times report in 2017, members make a lifelong commitment to the group and are assigned a personal adviser. The group’s membership is mostly but not completely Catholic, and it has been criticized by at least one former member who said the group believes that, when it comes to spiritual matters, wives should be subordinate to their husbands.

A group leader defended People of Praise to the Times, telling the newspaper that the community is about building long-term friendships and not about controlling its members. The leader added that it was the group’s policy not to reveal whether someone is a member.

Affordable Care Act criticism

Barrett has been critical of aspects of the Affordable Care Act in the past. In 2012, she signed a letter sponsored by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty objecting to the law’s requirement that employers include contraceptive coverage in their health insurance plans, according to the liberal advocacy group Alliance for Justice.

In 2017, according to CNN, she criticized Chief Justice John Roberts in a law review essay for upholding the law in a 2012 Supreme Court case over the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. Barrett said Roberts “pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute,” CNN reported.

The Affordable Care Act will once again go before the Supreme Court on Nov. 10, when the court is expected to hear arguments in the case California v. Texas.

Thumbnail credit: Matt Cashore/Notre Dame University/Handout via Reuters

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