Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
The University of Arizona
James E. Rogers College of Law

Sunday, October 4, 2020

A Few Thoughts on Amy Coney Barrett

On September 18, 2020, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg unexpectedly died. Undoubtedly, Justice Ginsburg was a brilliant jurist and one of the most influential legal thinkers in recent history. After a period of mourning in honor of Justice Ginsburg, President Donald Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to serve as an Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court. Predictably, some senators vowed to oppose Judge Barrett’s confirmation to the Court, citing both the timing of the nomination and the belief that Judge Barrett would reach decisions that would eviscerate abortion rights and invalidate the Affordable Care Act.[1] In fact, three senators announced that they would not even meet with Judge Barrett before the confirmation hearings begin.[2]

A review of the reasons offered in opposition to Judge Barrett’s confirmation, and an analysis of Judge Barrett’s background and experience, strongly suggests that Judge Barrett will – and should – be confirmed.

To begin with, Judge Barrett’s credentials are impeccable. A graduate of Notre Dame Law School – and an executive editor on the Notre Dame Law Review ­– Barrett clerked for Judge Laurence Silberman of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia and, thereafter, for former Justice Antonin Scalia at the United States Supreme Court. Thereafter, Judge Barrett joined Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin, a prestigious Washington, D.C. firm before embarking on a career in academia and, ultimately, being confirmed as a judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.[3]

Scholars of all political persuasions have offered effusive praise for Justice Barrett’s intellect and legal ability. As former colleague and Notre Dame law professor O. Carter Snead states:

She has an incandescent mind that has won the admiration of colleagues across the ideological spectrum.  Harvard law professor Noah Feldman, a respected liberal legal commentator who, like Barrett, was a Supreme Court clerk during the October 1998 term, has observed that Barrett may well have been the smartest person in that year’s pool of top young legal talent. ‘Any Senate Democrat who tries to go toe to toe with Barrett over her legal abilities,’ he wrote in 2018, ‘going to lose. Badly.’ Barrett has confirmed her brilliance many times over as both a scholar and a teacher, for which she has been recognized three times by Notre Dame law students as professor of the year.[4]

Notre Dame law professor Daniel Kelly echoed these sentiments, calling Judge Barrett “absolutely brilliant," and “one of the warmest open-minded people that anybody could meet.”[5]

Furthermore, Judge Barrett is a jurist – and person – of great character and integrity. As Professor Snead explains, Judge Barrett’s “commitment to treating others with respect grows directly out of her religious convictions,” and “Barrett’s love of neighbor goes beyond merely treating others with dignity.”[6] In fact, “[i]n all the time I have known her, I have never once seen Barrett place her needs above those of others.”[7]

Additionally, neither ideology nor policy predilections appear to influence Judge Barrett’s jurisprudence. As Professor Snead explains, Judge Barrett “genuinely seeks to understand others’ arguments and does not regard them as mere obstacles to be overcome on the way to reaching a preferred conclusion.”[8] To be sure, Judge Barrett is “not afraid to change her own mind in the search for the truth,” and “open-mindedness is exactly what we want of our judges,” particularly on the U.S. Supreme Court. In fact, one of Judge Barrett’s former colleagues – and a former clerk to Justice Ginsburg – stated that Judge Barrett “is ‘not at all ideological’ and believes that she will ‘try as hard as anyone can to bracket the views she has as she decides cases.’”[9]

For these and other reasons, Judge Barrett is admired and respected by her peers and former students – regardless of political persuasion. John Garvey, President of Catholic University and one of Judge Barrett’s former professors, stated that “Amy Coney is the best student I ever had.”[10] While a professor at Notre Dame Law School, Judge Barrett was voted Teacher of the Year three times.[11] Most importantly, Judge Barrett is a good person who has impacted meaningfully the lives of so many. Three of Judge Barrett’s former students state as follows:

Amy Coney Barrett is a woman of both profound intellect and depth of heart. We are better women, friends, and lawyers for having known and learned from her. She has enriched the lives of all who have come to know her at Notre Dame Law School, and we can only hope that the entire country also will be given the benefit of her example and service.[12]

Indeed, as a group of her former students stated, “[w]hile we hold a variety of views regarding how best to interpret statutes and the Constitution, we all agree on this: The nation could not ask for a more qualified candidate than the professor we have come to know and revere.”[13]

Of course, some legal scholars will oppose Judge Barrett’s confirmation and her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary will almost certainly be contentious. Those opposing Judge Barrett’s confirmation will likely argue that Judge Barrett will fortify a conservative majority on the Court, vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, and invalidate the Affordable Care Act. Such concerns are purely speculative; as history reveals, lawmakers cannot know with any degree of confidence how a nominee will rule in a particular case. For example, Justices David Souter, John Paul Stevens, and John Roberts have reached decisions in numerous cases that defy their perceived ideological dispositions.  Furthermore, disagreement with (or, in some cases, disdain for) a nominee’s political beliefs is not the constitutional standard upon which nominees should be evaluated. Such an argument shows no regard whatsoever for or faith in the rule of law and unnecessarily politicizes both the confirmation process and the Court. Put simply, it’s not enough to reject a nominee because you disagree with their political views; in fact, it’s the Senate’s job to confirm a nominee regardless of those views. And the fact that Judge Barrett recognizes that “judges are not policymakers” is a positive, not negative, characteristic.[14]

Others may argue, as Senator Diane Feinstein did during Judge Barrett’s confirmation hearing for a vacant seat on the Seventh Circuit, that Judge Barrett’s religious beliefs suggest that her ideology will influence her decisions.[15] However, concerns about Judge Barrett’s religion or religious beliefs should be entirely irrelevant. Article VI, Clause Three of the Constitution  states that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”[16] Even living constitutionalists could not disagree that Article’ VII’s meaning: you cannot disqualify a judge based on their religious beliefs or affiliations. Also, to look unfavorably upon a nominee because of their religious belief is plain wrong and reflects precisely the type of bias and prejudice that all reasonable people should condemn.

Some senators will also likely argue that Judge Barrett’s interpretive philosophy – originalism – will lead to unjust and inequitable outcomes, and cause Judge Barrett to disregard principles of stare decisis when precedents conflict with the Constitution's original meaning. This concern, again, lacks merit. Originalism does not require judges to overturn precedent that violates originalism’s interpretive philosophy. Furthermore, based on Judge Barrett’s respect for the rule of law and the stability it provides, it is highly likely that pragmatic considerations would influence Judge Barrett’s decision-making process. And by all indications, Judge Barrett would do so in an honest and principled, not partisan and political manner. Moreover, outcome-based objections ignore the complexity of the judicial decision-making process, disregard the seriousness with which the justices take their responsibility to be fair and impartial, and serve to politicize the confirmation process in a manner that threatens the Court’s institutional legitimacy.

Additionally, many Senators will almost certainly object to Judge Barrett’s nomination on the ground that no nominee should be confirmed during an election year – a position that the Republican party embraced to block the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland. This fact should not preclude her confirmation. Since 1900, six justices have been confirmed during election years.[17] And sufficient time exists to confirm Judge Barrett; Justice Ginsburg, for example, was confirmed forty-two days after her nomination, and former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was confirmed thirty-three days after her nomination.[18] Of course, the Republicans’ refusal to hold hearings for Merrick Garland understandably angered Democrats and exposes Republicans to charges of hypocrisy in seeking to confirm Judge Barrett on the eve of a presidential election. But at some point, the partisanship and polarization that has characterized recent confirmation hearings must stop. In 1986, Justice Antonin Scalia was confirmed by a vote of 98-0.[19] In 1993, Justice Ginsburg was confirmed by a vote of 96-3.[20] In 2009, Justice Sotomayor was confirmed by a vote of 68-31.[21] Judge Barrett should be confirmed too.

Put simply, Judge Barrett has impeccable credentials and is a thoughtful and conscientious jurist. Most importantly, as her former colleagues and students attest, Judge Barrett is a kind, humble, and caring person. As Professor Snead stated, “[a]t a time when there is so much to worry about in our troubled nation, having a Supreme Court justice who brings such honesty and integrity to her work should be the least of our fears.”[22]

 

[1] See Ana De Liz, Which Democrats are Meeting With Amy Coney Barrett, and Which Are Refusing (Sep. 29, 2020), available at: https://www.newsweek.com/which-democrats-are-meeting-amy-coney-barrett-which-are-refusing-1534955

[2] See Zachary Evans, Several Senate Dems Refuse to Met With Barrett, Come Out Against Confirmation (September 29, 2020), available at: https://www.nationalreview.com/news/several-senate-dems-refuse-to-meet-with-barrett-come-out-against-confirmation/

[3] See Biography: Amy Coney Barrett, available at: https://www.biography.com/law-figure/amy-coney-barrett

[4] O. Carter Snead, I’ve Known Amy Coney Barrett for 15 years. Liberals Have Nothing to Fear (Sept. 26, 2020), available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/09/26/ive-known-amy-coney-barrett-15-years-liberals-have-nothing-fear/

[5] WIBC, Notre Dame Colleagues Call Amy Coney Barrett ‘Brilliant, Honest, and Sincere’ (Sept. 25, 2020), available at: https://www.wibc.com/news/local-indiana/notre-dame-colleagues-call-amy-coney-barrett-brilliant-honest-and-sincere/

[6] Snead, supra note 4, available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/09/26/ive-known-amy-coney-barrett-15-years-liberals-have-nothing-fear/

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Laura E. Wolk, Megan L. McKeown, Alyson M. Cox, Amy Coney Barrett Was Our Professor. She’ll Serve America As Well As She Served Her Students (Sept. 27, 2020), available at: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/voices/2020/09/27/amy-coney-barrett-supreme-court-notre-dame-students-column/3551971001/

[11] Christian Sheckler, Notre Dame Profs Push Back On Amy Coney Barrett Portrayals: Not Just an ‘Ideological Category,’ (Sept. 26, 2020), available at: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/09/26/amy-coney-barrett-notre-dame-professors-push-back-ideological-portrayals/3546388001/

[12] Wolk, et al., supra note 10, available at: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/voices/2020/09/27/amy-coney-barrett-supreme-court-notre-dame-students-column/3551971001/

[13] Id.

[14] Supreme Court Nominee Amy Coney Barrett, ‘Judges Are Not Policymakers,” available at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/articles/supreme-court-nominee-amy-coney-barrett-judges-not-policymakers/

[15] See New York Times, The Dogma Lives Loudly Within You Sept. 26, 2020), available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/26/us/politics/the-dogma-lives-loudly-within-you-revisiting-barretts-confirmation-hearing.html

[16] U.S. Const., Art. VI, Cl. 3.

[17] See Zack Budryk, 22 GOP Attorneys General Urge Congress to Confirm Barrett As Supreme Court Justice (Oct. 1, 2020), available at: https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/519130-22-gop-attorneys-general-urge-congress-to-confirm-barrett-as-supreme-court

[18] See id.

[19]  See Dana D. Kelly, Scotus Scores (July 6, 2018), available at: https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2018/jul/06/scotus-scores-20180706/

[20] See Linda P. Campbell, Ginsburg Confirmed to Court on 96-3 Vote (Aug. 4, 1993), available at: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1993-08-04-9308040122-story.html

[21] See John Stanton, Senate Confirms Sotomayor on Bipartisan 68-31 Vote (Aug. 6, 2009), available at: https://www.rollcall.com/2009/08/06/senate-confirms-sotomayor-on-bipartisan-68-31-vote/

[22] Snead, supra note 4, available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/09/26/ive-known-amy-coney-barrett-15-years-liberals-have-nothing-fear/

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