Examining Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Judicial History on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals
How do you feel about Judge Barrett’s opinions in these cases?
What’s the story?
- Confirmation hearings on the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to succeed the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court are set to begin Monday, October 12th in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
- Because Barrett has served as a federal judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals since 2017, there will be a significant amount of attention paid to her holdings on cases and opinions she authored. As an originalist and textualist inspired by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Judge Amy Coney Barrett has said, “Judges are not policymakers, and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they hold.”
- It can be difficult to use the record of an appellate or district judge to determine how they would rule on a case before them on the Supreme Court because judges on lower courts are bound by controlling precedent in cases, which results in many cases at the appellate level being decided unanimously. In Barrett’s case, she is bound by the precedents of the Seventh Circuit, in addition to the Supreme Court precedent as all lower court judges are.
- With that in mind, the Congressional Research Service has compiled an exhaustive report on the opinions Barrett has participated in on the Seventh Circuit. Here is a look at several notable opinions authored by Barrett on the Seventh Circuit:
U.S. v. Watson (2018):
- Barrett authored the majority opinion in this case, which held that an anonymous call to police reporting boys playing with guns in a parking lot didn’t give officers reasonable suspicion to block the defendant’s car and search it.
- The majority decided that the anonymous caller’s report wasn’t sufficiently reliable and the reported gun possession was lawful in the state.
Kanter v. Barr (2019):
- Barrett authored a dissent in this case, while the majority rejected a Second Amendment challenge to federal and state laws permanently prohibiting felons from possessing firearms and held that the government can prohibit nonviolent felons from possessing firearms.
- Barrett’s dissent noted that there was evidence dating back to the Founding era that legislatures disarmed people because they were deemed a threat to public safety, not because they were felons. Her dissent differentiated civic rights, such as voting or jury service, that are denied felons under law in some cases from the Second Amendment, which is considered an individual right rather than a civic right under Supreme Court precedent.
- Barrett’s dissent wrote that history didn’t support the legislature’s ability to “permanently deprive felons of the right to possess arms simply because of their status as felons”, but that it did support its ability to disarm “a category [of people] simultaneously broader and narrower than ‘felons’” including “those who have demonstrated a proclivity for violence or whose possession of guns would otherwise threaten the public safety.”
Yafai v. Pompeo (2019):
- Barrett authored the majority opinion in this case, which held that a consular office’s denial of an immigration visa to the Yemeni wife of a U.S. citizen was based on the facially legitimate and bona fide ground that she had tried to smuggle children into the U.S.
- The majority decided that the district court had properly dismissed the plaintiffs’ challenge to the denial because they failed to show affirmatively that the consular office made a bad faith decision in turning down the visa.
Cook County v. Wolf (2020):
- Barrett authored a dissent in this case, while the majority held that a district court didn’t abuse its discretion in granting a preliminary injunction blocking a Dept. of Homeland Security rule. The rule defined public charge as a non-citizen who receives a certain amount of cash and noncash government benefits in a certain amount of time, and identified factors DHS would use in determining whether an individual was likely to become a public charge and therefore able to be denied admission.
- The majority held that under the Chevron analysis, the DHS interpretation conflicted with other immigration laws and was based on a flawed reading of the Immigration and Nationality Act, and therefore was “arbitrary and capricious” under the Administrative Procedures Act.
- Barrett’s dissent held that the district court used a flawed interpretation of the term “public charge” which has historically been interpreted broadly under the 1996 INA amendments. Therefore, Barrett held that DHS’s interpretation reasonably included in-kind aid in addition to cash benefits and establishing a benefit-usage threshold of using one or more of designated benefits for more than 12 months aggregate within a 36 month period.
U.S. v. Wilson (2020):
- Barrett authored a concurring opinion in this case, in which the majority held that the district court’s denial of motion to suppress was proper where the defendant didn’t submit to police authority but ran away from police officers.
- The majority held officers asking the the man to stand up wasn’t a Fourth Amendment challenge, and the defendant being taken into custody after being tackled by a police officer was constitutional because the officers had reasonable suspicion to seize him through physical force after he behaved evasively and dispatch received a report of armed drug dealers nearby.
- Barrett’s concurrence held that stopping a defendant who ran from the police in a high-crime area was constitutionally valid, even though police didn’t have reasonable suspicion to initially approach the defendant because the identifying information they received in a dispatch call didn’t match the defendant’s description.
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: The White House via Flickr / Public Domain)
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