Amy Coney Barrett is President Trump's nominee to replace late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearing on Barrett's nomination begins on October 12.
Here are some facts to know about Barrett's job history, political views, and past court rulings—plus why critics say Barrett's nomination is controversial.
The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on September 18 marked a pivotal new chapter in American politics. And unlike any other position in the federal government, including that of the 2020 presidential election winner, the lifetime appointment of a new Supreme Court judge is a moment that will affect not only our own rights, but those of our children, and likely our grandchildren.
On September 26, instead of frontrunner Barbara Lagoa, President Donald Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett, an appellate judge and law professor with a record of conservative-leaning rulings on gun rights, immigration, and reproductive rights.
At 48 years old, Barrett would be the youngest Supreme Court justice, likely serving for many decades to come. "There are already five conservatives on the nation's highest court," explains Caroline Mala Corbin, a professor at University of Miami School of Law, referring to Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito Jr., Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. "Now, they'll control it for much longer, since they'll still have a majority if a conservative is replaced."
Headlines make it clear that Barrett's nomination is controversial. But what are Amy Coney Barrett's views on the issues, exactly—and how might they affect future Supreme Court rulings that will shape our lives? Here's what to know about Barrett's background ahead of her October 12 confirmation hearing, based on the mother of seven's own words, history, and bench decisions since she first became a judge three years ago.
Trump appointed Barrett to the federal bench in 2017.
Barrett's experience as a judge began when Trump nominated her to the Chicago-based Seventh U.S. Circuit Court appeals bench in 2017, but her career in law dates back to the 1990s. After graduating from Notre Dame Law School, Barrett clerked for conservative Justice Antonin Scalia from 1998 to 1999 (serving as a law clerk—essentially a judge's right-hand person—is a coveted role for recent law graduates). After, she spent three years as an associate attorney at Washington, D.C. firm Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin.
Barrett returned to Notre Dame in 2002 to teach topics including constitutional law, and has taught at her alma mater ever since; following her late 2017 confirmation, she commuted between Chicago and the South Bend, Indiana school. In 2018, Barrett was also on Trump's shortlist to replace her early mentor, Justice Scalia, as his replacement on the Supreme Court.
Michael Tarm of the Associated Press deems Barrett "Scalia's heir." In the speech accepting her Supreme Court nomination, Barrett said that "his judicial philosophy is mine too." Like Scalia, Barrett interprets the constitution through the lens of originalism.
"In general, originalists believe that the meaning of the Constitution was fixed at the time of the founding, and that we should understand the Constitution in the same way as the founding generation," says Corbin. "This is in contrast to a theory like living constitutionalism, which argues that the broad principles established by the U.S. Constitution should be interpreted in light of evolving facts and norms."
Barrett is associated with a group called "The People of Praise."
Barrett has come under scrutiny for her and her husband Jesse's membership in the People of Praise, an Indiana-based Christian group that describes itself as "a charismatic, ecumenical and covenant community." Barrett's mother, Linda Coney, served as a "handmaid," a female leader who guides other women in the group. (Though, since Hulu adapted Margaret Atwood's unrelated The Handmaid's Tale, the People of Praise have reportedly dropped that name for the role.)
In interviews with the AP, former People of Praise members allege that women in the group must live in "total submission" to their husbands and male group leaders, and that decisions ranging from purchases to where to live "went through the hierarchy of male leadership." Current members denied these allegations. As of September 25, the AP also reported, the People of Praise had scrubbed all digital back issues of the magazine—which featured birth announcements, photos, and more references to the Barretts—from their website.
In a September op-ed for Politico, theology professor Massimo Faggioli called People of Praise "a charismatic Christian group with a highly authoritarian internal structure." He argued that it's not Barrett's Catholic faith that's causing concern, but rather the secretiveness of the group she and her family hold allegiance to. "Amy Coney Barrett is not Catholic like John F. Kennedy was Catholic or Joe Biden or Paul Ryan or the late Antonin Scalia was Catholic," he wrote. "She has made solemn promises that go far beyond the baptismal promises every Catholic makes."
The judge is open about her religious views.
The AP also reports that at Notre Dame, Barrett "often invoked God in articles and speeches," and in a 2006 address, told law graduates that their careers were a means to "building the kingdom of God." During her 2017 confirmation hearings, an interaction with Sen. Dianne Feinstein made Barrett something of a conservative hero to those who viewed her as the victim of religious persecution. Feinstein expressed skepticism about whether Barrett would be able to leave her deeply-held religious beliefs outside the courtroom, based on her past speeches and a 1998 Marquette Law Review article she co-wrote that wondered if Catholic judges should "adhere to their church’s teaching on moral matters."
"I think whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different," Feinstein said at the time. "And I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.”
Barrett told Sen. Dick Durbin in that same hearing: "I would stress that my personal church affiliation or my religious belief would not bear in the discharge of my duties as a judge." Still, according to the Indianapolis Star, "Three years later, Barrett's rulings have invited similar questions."
Not unlike Sen. Mitch McConnell's "nevertheless, she persisted" remark was flipped to became a Democratic rallying cry after he attempted to stop Sen. Elizabeth Warren from speaking in the Senate chamber, Feinstein's "the dogma lives loudly in you" has since made its way onto pro-Catholic mugs and T-shirts.
Her views on the Affordable Care Act remain to be seen.
On November 10—weeks after Barrett's confirmation hearing date—the Supreme Court is slated to hear oral arguments in a case arguing the Trump administrations' claim that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. If overturned, the millions who stand to lose their coverage include the nearly half-million who signed up after losing their previous health coverage in the first half of 2020, according to federal data via CNN. Parents can also keep their children on their plan until 26, in the current law that's under threat.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Americans who've had COVID-19—up to 7.26 million, as of October 1—also face potential denial of future coverage if the ACA is overturned. This particularly applies to those deemed "long-haulers," suffering from lasting complications including lung and heart disorders long after contracting the virus.
In a 2017 law review article, Barrett wrote of a 2012 Supreme Court decision upholding an ACA provision, "Chief Justice Roberts pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute." While Barrett hasn't shared further views on the ACA, Trump's rush to nomination suggests he believes he can make good on campaign promises to eradicate the health plan with her vote.
"The evidence suggests she has a very expansive view of gun rights."
Barrett has filed just one Second Amendment opinion—a 2019 dissent, after the 7th Circuit majority ruled against a challenge from a man who wanted to buy a firearm, but was prohibited by federal and Wisconsin law because he'd been found guilty of felony mail fraud.
In it, Barrett argued that her view of the law's original intention didn't mandate that a non-violent offender should be prohibited from gun ownership. She wrote that her colleagues treated the 2nd Amendment as a "second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees."
An article in the National Law Journal, "Amy Coney Barrett's Broad View of 2nd Amendment Could Energize Gun Rights Challenges," constitutional scholars speculate that Barrett's confirmation could change the Supreme Court's more recent hesitance to accept petitions related to gun laws, because Justices Thomas, Alito Jr., Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh could count on Barrett's vote.
"How would Amy Coney Barrett rule on guns? The evidence suggests she has a very expansive view of gun rights, likely even broader than Justice Scalia," UCLA professor Adam Winkler wrote in a September 24 Twitter thread explaining his position based on Barrett's dissent. "She would likely vote to strike down numerous gun laws, including red flag laws that have relatively bipartisan support."
She has spoken about how the Supreme Court could impose more restrictions on abortion.
As a judge, Barrett has twice called for a re-hearing after lower courts found Indiana abortion laws unconstitutional. That included a 2016 law signed by then-governor Mike Pence, a vocal champion of Barrett's, which banned abortions due to disabilities detected in the fetus. Per the New York Times, she also dissented against rulings that tossed state laws meant to tighten parental notification requirements and that mandated the burial of fetal remains, respectively.
Trump vowed to appoint pro-life judges in a 2016 presidential debate, and regarding overturning landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade said, "if we put another two or perhaps three justices on that’s really what’s going to be—that will happen." Barrett has not outright stated an intention to do so if appointed to the Supreme Court, though in a 2016 lecture to Jacksonville University, she did consider ways the highest court could impose more restrictions on abortion.
"I think don't think the core case—Roe's core holding that, you know, women have a right to an abortion–I don't think that would change," she said. "But I think the question of whether people can get very late-term abortions, how many restrictions can be put on clinics, I think that would change."
"Apart from matters of war and peace, the nomination of a Supreme Court justice is the most important decision an American President can make," the White House quotes Trump as saying upon Barrett's appointment announcement.
That much is certainly true.
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