Washington, DC – Few people in the United States may have heard the name Amy Coney Barrett before this week.
In conservative legal circles, US President Donald Trump’s decision to fill the post on the US Supreme Court has made a name for herself as a brilliant academic with a keen legal mind.
Barrett, 48, gained national fame in 2017 when she was retired from her post as a law professor at the University of Notre Dame and named to the Seventh Circuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Barrett had never served as a judge before Trump nominated her to the Court of Appeals, a key position in the U.S. judiciary. The Seventh Circuit hears cases from seven federal districts in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, three states in the American Midwest.
This combination of academic and appeal work put Barrett on a fast lane to the US Supreme Court. When Trump nominated Justice Brett Kavanaugh for a seat in 2018, Barrett was already on his short list of candidates.
Barrett was a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, where her writings on US constitutional theory received attention in conservative legal circles [Matt Cashore/Notre Dame University/Handout via Reuters]Randy Barnett, a law professor at Georgetown University, said Barrett “knew a lot about” US constitutional theory, “as her writings as a professor of constitutional law show.”
“She has the intellectual firepower to keep up with the rest of the court – the best others on the court,” Barnett told Al Jazeera.
Barrett is a graduate of Notre Dame Law School, where she was the Legal Revision Editor and where she was awarded first place in her class in 1997.
She was a clerk at the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit and then the Supreme Court after law school. She practiced as a lawyer in a private law firm in Washington, DC for three years before returning to Notre Dame in 2002 to teach.
Barnett’s affiliation with Conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and her academic writings made her a darling of right-wing federal society, a group that has sent more than 200 Conservative lawyers to federal courts under President Trump.
On Saturday, Barrett said that Scalia’s “philosophy of law” was hers too. “The judges must apply the law as it is written. Judges are not policy makers, ”she said.
The debate over Barrett’s confirmation in the Supreme Court is already proving to be highly polarized. Left groups fear that it will dismantle abortion rights and health care.
Most of the battle in the U.S. Senate will be on the process and circumstances of Barrett’s selection, not her legal acumen or qualifications, although her views on abortion, guns and health care will be in the spotlight.
The Democrats have condemned Trump and Republican leaders for getting the candidate through ahead of the November 3rd presidential contest. The election winner should be the one who chooses the next judiciary.
Many leading Democrats spoke out against Barrett’s nomination, saying they fear it will dismantle former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
However, there are signs that the tone – at least among legal experts – could be more civilian than the 2018 controversy over Kavanaugh’s confirmation, an admittedly lower standard.
Noah Feldman, a professor at Harvard Law School, a liberal constitutional scholar who campaigned for Trump’s impeachment before the House Judiciary Committee, wrote in a Bloomberg opinion piece that Barrett is qualified to serve on the Supreme Court.
“I met Barrett over 20 years ago when we served on the Supreme Court for the 1998-1999 term. Of the 30 employees that year, all of whom graduated from the top of their law degrees and completed prestigious appellate traineeships prior to joining the court, Barrett stood out, ”Feldman wrote.
I have said from the start that as of 2016, Senator McConnell should follow his own precedent: this post should be filled by the winner of the current election.
I intend to follow this precedent and will not support confirmation from anyone until we know the election results.
– Tim Kaine (@timkaine) September 26, 2020
“Barrett is a sincere, lovable person. I’ve never heard her say a word that wasn’t thoughtful and kind, even in the heat of real disagreements on important issues. She will be an ideal colleague, ”he said.
Health care, abortion rights
Barrett is a student of the relatively new school of constitutional law called “originalism,” in which scholars and judges attempt to interpret the original intent of the drafters of the US Constitution and the meaning of their words.
Barrett is believed to be against abortion, despite bypassing questions on the issue in her 2017 Senate confirmation hearing. The landmark 1973 Supreme Court Roe v Wade case established a woman’s right to abortion, and that right was upheld by later decisions.
Now it is a question of the extent to which states can regulate the law as a health service.
Women’s advocates fear, among other things, that putting Barrett on the pitch would create a conservative majority of 6 to 3 that would reverse these earlier decisions.
Barrett is also likely more skeptical of gun control measures, but also of the will of the legislature, Barnett said.
Barrett is married to Jesse M Barrett, a former US assistant attorney in South Bend, Indiana and a graduate of Notre Dame. They have seven children, including two adopted from Haiti.
The New York Times reported that Barrett is a member of a Christian group called the People of Praise, a non-denominational group of Catholics, Protestants, and others. The group of around 1,700 people was founded in South Bend in 1971 and adheres to a traditional Christian covenant.