Soon after Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death on September 18, 2020, 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 that, she worked as an attorney at a private law firm in Washington, D.C. Barrett was well known for serving as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
After a few years of work at her firm, Barrett started teaching at George Washington University’s law school and then moved to 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 pus 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 was being attacked simply for her religious affiliation rather than her actual judicial philosophy.
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, and other issues.
Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to the Supreme Court on October 26, 2020.