Judge Amy Coney Barrett is a wife, mother of seven and a devout Catholic — but how that may affect the presumptive nominee’s potential rulings on the Supreme Court remains to be seen.
Reportedly tapped by President Trump to replace the late US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg, the 48-year-old jurist has only sat on the federal bench for three years, after being successfully nominated by Trump to the Chicago-based 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.
She’s written more than 100 decisions and dissents, according to the Chicago Tribune. And while she maintains that her faith does not enter into her rulings on the law, Barrett twice joined with a minority of judges in dissenting opinions that favored reconsidering rulings that struck down state restrictions on abortion rights.
One case involved an Indiana law that would have required that the parents be notified when minors seek consent for the procedure from the courts, while the other — also passed in Indiana, her home state — banned abortions for reasons related to gender, race or disability, and also required that fetal remains be buried or cremated.
Although the Hoosier State only appealed the decision regarding fetal remains, Barrett and the other dissenters addressed the law’s other provisions, noting that “there is a difference between ‘I don’t want a child’ and ‘I want a child, but only a male,’ or ‘I want only children whose genes predict success in life.’”
“Using abortion to promote eugenic goals is morally and prudentially debatable,” the dissenters argued.
Both of those cases later wound up before the Supreme Court, which reinstated Indiana’s regulation of fetal remains and ordered a reconsideration of its parental-notification law.
The hot-button abortion issue also featured prominently during Barrett’s confirmation hearing for her seat on the 7th Circuit, which reviews rulings from federal district courts in Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana.
Liberal Democratic senators grilled Barrett — whose children include two adopted from Haiti and one with Down syndrome — on how her religious beliefs might affect her rulings, citing an article she co-wrote in 1998 for the Marquette Law Review that said the Catholic Church’s “prohibitions against abortion and euthanasia (properly defined) are absolute.”
“The dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that people have fought for for years in this country,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) told Barrett.
But when Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked when it would be “proper for a judge to put their religious views above applying the law,” Barrett answered, “Never.”
“It’s never appropriate for a judge to impose that judge’s personal convictions, whether they derive from faith or anywhere else, on the law,” she added.
Following the hearing, Barrett was confirmed by the Senate in a near-party-line vote, 55-43.
But her reported membership in People of Praise, an ecumenical Christian community, has fueled Democrats’ doubts. The group was one of many established in the wake of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s to encourage the Catholic laity to follow the early Christians and form small communities for prayer and mutual support.
Critics have characterized People of Praise as a conservative cult that subjugates women — in part because of its past use of the biblical term “handmaid” for its female leaders.
But the group and others like it are well within the mainstream of Catholic practice, defenders say, and have been given the blessing of every pope — including the progressive Pope Francis, who recently named a People of Praise member an auxiliary bishop in Portland, Ore.
Barrett also issued a dissenting opinion in a gun-rights case last year, when she supported a challenge to federal and state laws that bar people convicted of felonies from owning firearms.
Barrett said the laws shouldn’t apply to the owner of an orthopedic footwear company who pleaded guilty to mail fraud unless there was proof he was actually violent, arguing that the Second Amendment “confers an individual right, intimately connected with the natural right of self-defense and not limited to civic participation.”
“History is consistent with common sense: it demonstrates that legislatures have the power to prohibit dangerous people from possessing guns,” she wrote.
“But that power extends only to people who are dangerous.”
That led the conservative National Review magazine to call Barrett a “champion of originalism,” the theory that the Constitution should be interpreted as the framers intended at the time.
One of the most ardent advocates of that idea was Justice Antonin Scalia, who hired Barrett, a graduate of Notre Dame Law School, for a prestigious clerkship during 1998 and 1999.
That followed an earlier job Barrett had clerking for DC Circuit Court Judge Laurence Silberman, a former official in the Nixon and Ford administrations.
She later spent two years in private practice in Washington, DC, and a year as an adjunct faculty member and fellow at George Washington University Law School, then returned to Notre Dame as a law professor in 2002.
While at the school Barrett was a member of “Faculty for Life,” an anti-abortion group on campus.
Barrett spent 15 years there and won the support of 450 former students and all 49 fellow professors when Trump nominated her to the 7th Circuit bench.
“We have a wide range of political views, as well as commitments to different approaches to judicial methodology and judicial craft,” her colleagues wrote.
“We are united, however, in our judgment about Amy.”
Born in New Orleans, Barrett is one of seven children raised by Mike Coney, a former Shell oil lawyer, and his wife Linda, a homemaker.
She attended the all-girls St. Mary’s Dominican High School in New Orleans and was an English major at tiny Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, where she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and graduated with high honors.
Barrett won a full-tuition scholarship to study law at Notre Dame, according to SCOTUSblog, and was executive editor of the school’s law review before graduating with highest honors.
While at Notre Dame, she also met her future husband, Jesse Barrett, who later spent 13 years as a federal prosecutor in Indiana and last year joined the South Bend firm of SouthBank Legal: LaDue Curran Kuehn as a partner.
In 2018, Barrett was reportedly among three candidates who made the president’s shortlist to replace Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy after the jurist announced his retirement at age 81.
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer blasted Barrett at the time, deriding her as an activist judge who would overturn abortion rights and Obamacare.
“Judge Barrett has given every indication that she will be an activist judge on the Court. If chosen as the nominee, she will be the deciding vote to overturn Roe v. Wade and to strike down pre-existing conditions protections in the ACA,” he said in a July 2018 tweet.
But Barrett’s White House interview didn’t go well, NPR reported this week, citing a source who said she had to wear dark glasses due to a case of conjunctivitis and was “not at her best.”
Trump ultimately nominated Brett Kavanaugh, then a DC Circuit judge, who was confirmed by a narrow 50-48 margin following a grueling, four-day hearing during which he emotionally denied Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that he sexually assaulted her while drunk at a party when they were teenagers.
Barrett was considered all but a shoo-in for a nomination to the high court should Ginsburg’s seat become vacant, however, following a report last year in Axios that quoted Trump’s comments to confidants while discussing Kennedy’s replacement.
“I’m saving her for Ginsburg,” Trump said in remarks confirmed this week by NPR.
Amy Coney Barrett facts
- Born one of seven children in Louisiana, she is the 48-year-old mother of seven kids, including two adopted children from Haiti and a child with Down syndrome
- Strong Catholic faith and a member of the “People of Praise” charismatic community
- A favorite of originalists and social conservatives, she clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia
- Has written more than 100 decisions and dissents since joining the federal bench
- Criticized Chief Justice John Roberts’ decision to save Obamacare individual mandate in 2017
- Twice joined in dissenting opinions that favored reconsidering rulings that struck down state restrictions on abortion rights
- Supported a challenge to federal and state laws that bar people convicted of felonies from owning firearms
- Sided with the Trump administration in a case that challenged his policy of denying immigrants permanent residency if they would need too many taxpayer-funded benefits, including welfare, food stamps or Medicaid
Additional reporting by Mary Kay Linge and Jon Levine