WASHINGTON – The front-runner for President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nomination in the aftermath of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death is a darling of religious conservatives.
Amy Coney Barrett, 48, a finalist for Trump’s second high court nod in 2018 that ultimately went to Brett Kavanaugh, could move the high court further to the right – perhaps for decades to come.
Barrett rocketed to the top of Trump’s list of potential nominees after her 2017 confirmation hearing for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, when Democrats cited her deep Catholic faith not as an advantage but an obstacle. She was confirmed, 55-43.
“If you’re asking whether I take my faith seriously and I’m a faithful Catholic, I am,” Barrett responded during that hearing, “although I would stress that my personal church affiliation or my religious belief would not bear in the discharge of my duties as a judge.”
She has written that Supreme Court precedents are not sacrosanct, which liberals have interpreted as a threat to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide.
In a 2013 Texas Law Review article exploring when the Supreme Court should overturn past decisions, Barrett wrote that she agrees “with those who say that a justice’s duty is to the Constitution, and that it is thus more legitimate for her to enforce her best understanding of the Constitution rather than a precedent she thinks clearly in conflict with it.”
She also wrote that the public’s response to controversial cases like Roe v. Wade “reflects public rejection” of the idea that legal precedent “can declare a permanent victor in a divisive constitutional struggle.”
A former member of the University of Notre Dame’s “Faculty for Life,” Barrett signed a 2015 letter to Catholic bishops that affirmed the “teachings of the Church as truth.” Among those teachings: the “value of human life from conception to natural death” and marriage-family values “founded on the indissoluble commitment of a man and a woman.”
Barrett’s membership in the religious group People of Praise has been scrutinized by national media outlets. The group dates to the early 1970s and grew out of the “charismatic” movement, sharing some traits of Protestant Pentecostal groups. It has about 1,800 adult members today.
Some critics have suggested that the system of spiritual mentorship by People of Praise could raise questions of intellectual independence for Barrett on prospective cases. But Richard Garnett, a Notre Dame law professor and friend, said her participation in the group is “not so different from the lived religious experiences of millions of Americans.”
Barrett wrote in 2017 that Chief Justice John Roberts pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning in order to save it. Roberts creatively interpreted as a tax the law’s penalty on those who don’t buy insurance, allowing the court to uphold the constitutionality of the law, she said. That law is coming before the court again in November, with Texas leading a group of states seeking to strike it down.
She also criticized the Obama administration’s method for giving employees of religious-affiliated organizations access to birth control without having the institutions pay for it. Religiously-affiliated charities and universities were allowed to shift the cost on to their health insurance provider. But a letter Barrett and more than 300 academics signed said the accommodation “changes nothing of moral substance and fails to remove the assault on religious liberty.”
The Indiana resident’s husband, Jesse, is an assistant U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Indiana. They are the parents of seven children, including two from Haiti and one with special needs.
Barrett spent two decades as a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, from which she holds her law degree. She also clerked for Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.
Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, praised Barrett in a statement Saturday. “The same impressive intellect, character and temperament that made Professor Barrett a successful nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals would serve her equally well as a nominee for the nation’s highest court,” he
During her three years on the appeals court, Barrett has ruled in cases involving civil and consumer rights, guns, race and immigration. Among them:
Guns: Barrett dissented when the court upheld a decision restricting the Second Amendment rights of a felon convicted of mail fraud. She said non-violent offenders should not lose their constitutional right to firearms possession.
Immigration: In dissent, Barrett defended the Trump administration’s rule denying immigrants permanent residence if they become regular users of public assistance.
Race: Barrett helped to block the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s effort to stop an employer from transferring Chicago-area employees based on their race or ethnicity. The agency had accused AutoZone of making the transfers to reflect area demographics. Three dissenting judges said the policy “deprived people … of employment opportunities at their preferred geographic location.”
Age discrimination: Barrett ruled that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act does not apply when policies impact plaintiffs unintentionally. The ruling went against a 58-year-old job applicant who lost out to someone half his age when the company sought to hire a person with less than seven years’ experience.
RBG’s opinions, dissents:From VMI to Voting Rights Act
In a 2018 law school graduation speech at Notre Dame after being chosen by students as distinguished professor of the year for the third time, Barrett emphasized that the law is there to serve people.
“Diseases are named after the doctors who identify them. … But cases are different,” she said. “Cases are not named after the lawyers who litigated them, or the judges who decided them, but after the people on whom they had the greatest effect.”
Contributing: Caleb Bauer and Margaret Fosmoe, South Bend Tribune