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Amy Coney Barrett: Another Originalist for SCOTUS

Who is President Trump’s latest SCOTUS pick, and what is an originalist?

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After Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death on September 18, 2020, a vacancy, or absence, on the Supreme Court occurred.  Soon after, President Donald Trump announced his pick for Justice Ginsburg’s successor, Amy Coney Barrett. Who is she, and how did she come to be nominated as a Supreme Court Justice?

Amy Coney Barrett is an attorney, professor, and judge who has been serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals since 2017. Before being nominated to the federal Court of Appeals by President Trump, she worked as an attorney at a private law firm in Washington, D.C.  Barrett was renowned for serving as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who was considered one of the most significant legal minds to ever serve on the court. After clerking for Scalia, she worked for a private law firm, where she worked with her firm on the Bush. V. Gore Supreme Court case in 2000 that would result in Bush being declared the winner of the presidential election that year.

After a few years of work at her firm, Barrett started teaching at George Washington University’s law school and then moved to her alma mater, Notre Dame Law School. She was also a visiting professor at the University of Virginia’s School of Law, focusing her research and teaching on constitutional law and originalism. She was considered an exceptional teacher, being praised by both students and faculty for her work. Barrett is a staunch Roman Catholic and often contributed to religious legal groups and conferences throughout her time as a professor. This religious involvement has led to criticism of her legal beliefs.

Barrett’s adherence to constitutional originalism seems to come from her clerkship under Antonin Scalia. Scalia was a rigid originalist who often disagreed with his fellow Supreme Court Justices. An originalist view of the Constitution is that the Constitution should be interpreted the way it was written, not concerning current events and occurrences. This suggests that the Constitution’s meaning was fixed and rigid when it was written and that judges are not meant to be policymakers who usher in radical change based on their interpretations of what words mean.

Democrats had questioned Barrett’s ability to judge impartially since being appointed to the Court of Appeals by President Trump. Democrats in the Senate questioned her dedication to her Catholic faith. Throughout the country, conservatives felt that Barrett, like so many Americans today, was being attacked simply for her religious affiliation rather than her actual judicial philosophy.

Barrett had been considered a potential Supreme Court Justice pick since Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court and was on a shortlist for the nomination alongside Brett Kavanaugh at the time. Ultimately, she was not nominated and continued her work as a federal appeals court judge. After being appointed as a Supreme Court Justice by President Donald Trump in 2020, Barrett faced intense scrutiny, especially from Democrats in the Senate. This appointment would be Donald Trump’s third Supreme Court nominee during his term, shifting the court’s balance solidly conservative and returning a self-proclaimed originalist to the Supreme Court. In recent years, great power has been granted to the Supreme Court, like the ability to control election recounts, health care, federal funds, and reproductive rights.

Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed as a Supreme Court justice on October 26, 2020.

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Jose Backer, General Assignment Reporter, is a graduate of St. Michael's College and is currently pursuing a Master's Degree in Political Science. Born and raised in Southern California, he currently resides in the Pasadena area.

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