What’s the story?
- President Donald Trump announced at a White House event on Saturday that he is nominating Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
- Trump said that Barrett is a “stellar scholar” and “profoundly devoted mother” while praising her “unsurpassed” credentials and her record as “beyond reproach.” He said that she will make rulings based on a fair reading of the law, and urged both Democrats and the media to give her a fair hearing free from personal and partisan attacks.
- Barrett said, “If the Senate does me the honor of confirming me, I pledge to discharge the responsibilities of this job to the very best of my ability. I love the United States, and I love the United States Constitution.” She also said she will “be mindful of who came before me” and praised the late Justice Ginsburg for “smashing glass ceilings,” and for her ability to maintain a friendship with the late Justice Scalia, Barrett's mentor. The judge added that if she is confirmed to the Supreme Court:
"I would assume this role to serve you. I would discharge the judicial oath, which requires me to administer justice without respect to persons, do equal right to poor and rich, and faithfully and impartially discharge my duties under the United States Constitution."
- Senate Republicans haven’t scheduled confirmation hearings for the judge yet, but they will likely do soon. A proposed timeline would have the Judiciary Committee hold confirmation hearings for Barrett during the week of October 12th, which would leave time for floor debate and a confirmation vote prior to Election Day.
Who is Judge Amy Coney Barrett?
- Barrett, 48, is a federal judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and in addition to serving on the bench, she has worked as a law professor at Notre Dame Law School since 2002, teaching civil procedure, constitutional law, and statutory interpretation.
- Barrett earned her undergraduate degree with honors from Rhodes College. She then studied law at Notre Dame Law School on a scholarship, where she was an executive editor of the law review and graduated first in her class in 1997.
- After law school, Barrett worked as a law clerk for Judge Laurence Silberman of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals from 1997 to 1998. She then clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1998 to 1999. After her clerkships, she worked at a law firm in Washington, D.C. until 2002.
- In terms of her legal philosophy, Barrett is an avowed originalist in the mold of the late Justice Scalia. As Barrett has explained:
“Originalism rests on two basic claims. First, the meaning of constitutional text is fixed at the time of its ratification. Second, the original meaning of the text controls because “it and it alone is law.” Nonoriginalists consider the text’s historical meaning to be a relevant factor in interpreting the Constitution, but other factors, like value-based judgments, might overcome it. Originalists, by contrast, treat the original meaning as a relatively hard constraint.”
- Barrett is a practicing Catholic who grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana, and is the oldest of seven siblings. She and her husband, Jesse, live in South Bend, Indiana, with their seven children, two of whom were adopted from Haiti and one of whom has special needs.
What’s the outlook for her confirmation?
- Republicans appear to have the votes to move forward with an expeditious confirmation process for Barrett, and her confirmation to the appeals court three years ago will serve as a template for GOP senators to replicate and perhaps for Democrats looking to challenge the nominee in her hearings.
- Barrett was nominated to the Seventh Circuit by President Trump in May 2017, and the Judiciary Committee held her confirmation hearing on September 6, 2017. One of the most notable moments occurred when Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) pressed Barrett on whether her Catholic beliefs would interfere with her ability to serve as a judge, telling the nominee that “the dogma lives loudly within you, and that is a concern.”
- Feinstein’s line of questioning drew criticism as threatening to impose an unconstitutional “religious test” for office. Barrett sought to downplay the senator’s concerns by saying, “My personal church affiliation or my religious belief would not bear on the discharge of my duties as a judge… It is never appropriate for a judge to impose that judge’s personal convictions, whether they arise from faith or anywhere else, on the law.”
- After her nomination was advanced by the committee on a party-line vote, Barrett was confirmed on a 55-43 vote on October 31, 2017, becoming the first woman to occupy an Indiana seat on the circuit. All Republican senators voted for her confirmation, as did three Democrats, including Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), and then-Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) who lost reelection the following year.
- Barrett’s opinions, concurrences, and dissents written on the 7th Circuit will come under scrutiny throughout the confirmation process. Something to keep in mind is that those writings don’t necessarily mean a judge will come to the same conclusion on an issue if it reaches them after they become a Supreme Court justice ― federal judges at the district and appellate levels are bound by the controlling precedent within their circuit and by Supreme Court precedent.
- For her circuit court nomination, the American Bar Association’s judicial nominations ratings panel gave Barrett a majority rating of “well qualified” while a minority gave her a rating of “qualified”.
- While the timing of a floor vote on Barrett’s confirmation isn’t yet clear, Republicans can only lose the support of three of their 53 senators and still have Vice President Mike Pence break a tie to confirm the nominee. So far, only two Republicans ― Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) ― have said they oppose voting on the nominee before Inauguration Day, although they’ve said they will meet with her.
What would her confirmation mean for the Supreme Court?
- If confirmed, Barrett would be the sixth justice currently on the bench to have been appointed by a Republican, and the third to have been appointed by President Donald Trump. As an originalist in the mold of the late Justice Scalia, Barrett would likely shift the philosophical balance of the Court in a more conservative direction.
- She would be the first female justice with school-age children to serve on the Supreme Court. Barrett would be the fifth woman to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court justice and would take the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was the second female justice. The third and fourth female justices, Justice Elena Kagan and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, still serve on the Supreme Court.
- Barrett would be the second female justice appointed by a Republican president, following in the footsteps of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who was appointed by Ronald Reagan.
- She would be the 15th Catholic to serve as a Supreme Court justice if confirmed. Five of the justices currently on the bench are Catholic, including Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Samuel Alito, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
- Barrett would also be the first justice to have graduated from a law school that isn’t in the Ivy League or Stanford since Justice John Paul Stevens, who was on the Supreme Court from 1975-2010.
— Eric Revell
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