Amy Vivian Coney Barrett (born 1972) is an American attorney and jurist who serves as a circuit judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Barrett is the first and only woman to occupy an Indiana seat on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Described as an "originalist" and a "textualist", Barrett's judicial philosophy has been likened to that of her mentor and former boss, Antonin Scalia. Barrett's scholarship focuses on originalism, statutory interpretation, and stare decisis.
Barrett was nominated to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals by President Donald Trump in May 2017 and confirmed by the Senate later that year. While serving on the federal bench, she is a professor of law at Notre Dame Law School, where she has taught civil procedure, constitutional law, and statutory interpretation. Shortly after her confirmation to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017, Barrett was added to Trump's list of potential Supreme Court nominees.
Early life and education, and career
Barrett was born and raised in New Orleans. She is the oldest of seven children, with five sisters and a brother. Her father, Michael Coney, worked as an attorney for Shell Oil Company; her mother was a homemaker. Her maternal grandfather, Bobby Vath, fought in World War II. During his Navy tour, he wrote close to 700 letters to Barrett's maternal grandmother, Jeanne Daste. A selection of those letters was published in a private family memoir, The Sea Bag: Hurricane Katrina and a Love Revealed.
In 1990, Barrett graduated from St. Mary's Dominican High School, where she was vice president of the student body. In 1994, Barrett graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from Rhodes College, where she was a Phi Beta Kappa member. She then attended Notre Dame Law School as a Kiley Fellow (a full-tuition scholarship). At Notre Dame, Barrett served as an executive editor of the Notre Dame Law Review. In 1997, she graduated first in her class, which earned her the Hoynes Prize, the Law School's highest honor.
Clerkships and private practice
After graduating from law school, Barrett served as a law clerk to Judge Laurence Silberman of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. She then spent a year as a clerk to Associate Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court of the United States. During both clerkships, she was the only female law clerk.
From 1999 to 2002, she practiced law at Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin in Washington, D.C..
Teaching and scholarship
Barrett served as a visiting associate professor and John M. Olin Fellow in Law at the George Washington University Law School for a year before returning to her alma mater, Notre Dame Law School.
In 2002, Barrett returned to Notre Dame Law School to teach federal courts, constitutional law, and statutory interpretation. Barrett was named a Professor of Law in 2010, and from 2014 to 2017 held the Diane and M.O. Miller Research Chair of Law. Her scholarship focuses on constitutional law, originalism, statutory interpretation, and stare decisis. Her academic work has been published in journals such as the Columbia, Cornell, Virginia, Notre Dame, and Texas law reviews. Some of her most significant publications are Suspension and Delegation, 99 Cornell L. Rev. 251 (2014), Precedent and Jurisprudential Disagreement, 91 Tex. L. Rev. 1711 (2013),The Supervisory Power of the Supreme Court, 106 Colum. L. Rev. 101 (2006), and Stare Decisis and Due Process, 74 U. Colo. L. Rev. 1011 (2003).
At Notre Dame, Barrett received the "distinguished professor of the year" award three times. She taught Constitutional Law, Civil Procedure, Evidence, Federal Courts, Constitutional Theory Seminar, and Statutory Interpretation Seminar. Barrett has continued to teach seminars as a sitting judge. In July 2018, after Barrett's name was floated as a potential Supreme Court nominee, several of her former students spoke to the media, praising Barrett as a professor and mentor. One former student called her "always approachable", another "remarkably fair-minded".
Federal judicial service
Nomination and confirmation
President Donald Trump nominated Barrett on May 8, 2017, to serve as a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, to the seat vacated by Judge John Daniel Tinder, who took senior status on February 18, 2015.
A hearing on Barrett's nomination before the Senate Judiciary Committee was held on September 6, 2017. During Barrett's hearing, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein questioned Barrett about whether her Catholic faith would influence her decision-making on the court, because in 1998 Barrett wrote an article in which she argued that Catholic judges should in some cases recuse themselves from death penalty cases due to their moral objections to the death penalty. Worried that Barrett would not uphold Roe v. Wade given her Catholic beliefs, Feinstein followed Barrett's response by saying, "the dogma lives loudly within you, and that is a concern". In response to Feinstein's remark, the conservative Judicial Crisis Network began to sell mugs with Barrett's photo and the Feinstein "dogma" quote. Feinstein's line of questioning was criticized by some observers and legal experts and defended by others. The issue prompted questions about the application of Article VI, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which reads: "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." During her hearing, Barrett said, "It is never appropriate for a judge to impose that judge's personal convictions, whether they arise from faith or anywhere else, on the law."
Democratic Senator Dick Durbin asked Barrett whether she was an "orthodox Catholic" and criticized her prior use of the term, saying it "unfairly maligns Catholics who do not hold certain positions about abortion or the death penalty."
Throughout the hearing, Barrett was heavily criticized by Democratic senators for a law review article she co-wrote with Professor John H. Garvey as a law student. According to Barrett, that “article addressed a very narrow question” of how a “conscientious objector to the death penalty who was a trial judge would proceed if the law required that judge to enter an order of execution.” The article concluded that the trial judge should recuse herself instead of entering the order. At the hearing, several Democratic senators pointed to that article to argue that Barrett would be willing to put her faith above her judicial duties. Barrett defended herself by noting that she had participated in many death-penalty appeals while serving as law clerk to Scalia. She also said, “My personal church affiliation or my religious belief would not bear on the discharge of my duties as a judge.” (Within three years of her confirmation, Barrett voted to clear the way for the first federal execution in 17 years.)
Several Republican senators came to Barrett's defense, including Chuck Grassley, who said, "Professor Barrett is a brilliant legal scholar who has earned the respect of colleagues and students from across the political spectrum. She's also a committed Roman Catholic and has spoken passionately about the role that her faith plays in her life. This isn't inconsistent with being a federal judge."
On October 5, 2017, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11–9 on party lines to recommend Barrett and report her nomination to the full Senate. On October 30, the Senate invoked cloture by a vote of 54–42. The Senate confirmed her by a vote of 55–43 on October 31, with three Democrats—Joe Donnelly, Tim Kaine, and Joe Manchin—voting for her. She received her commission on November 2.
In a unanimous Barrett-authored opinion, Doe v. Purdue University, 928 F.3d 652 (7th Cir. 2019), the court found in favor of a male student found guilty of sexual assault by Purdue University, which resulted in a one-year suspension, loss of his Navy ROTC scholarship, and expulsion from the ROTC affecting his ability to pursue his chosen career in the U.S. Navy. Doe alleged the school's Advisory Committee on Equity discriminated against him. The court found that Doe had adequately alleged that he was deprived of his occupational liberty without due process and that he had possibly been discriminated against on the basis of sex.
In Kanter v. Barr, 919 F.3d 437 (7th Cir. 2019), Barrett wrote a lengthy dissent in favor of gun-ownership rights for felons. Barrett stated that while the government has a legitimate interest in denying gun possession to felons convicted of violent crimes, there is no evidence that denying guns to nonviolent felons promotes this interest, and that denying such rights is a violation of the Second Amendment.
Barrett considers herself an originalist. She is a constitutional scholar with expertise in statutory interpretation. At a 2013 event reflecting on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, she described the decision—in Notre Dame Magazine's paraphrase—as "creating through judicial fiat a framework of abortion on demand". She also remarked that it was "very unlikely" the court would overturn the core of Roe v. Wade: "The fundamental element, that the woman has a right to choose abortion, will probably stand. The controversy right now is about funding. It's a question of whether abortions will be publicly or privately funded."
Potential Supreme Court nomination
Barrett has been on President Donald Trump's list of potential Supreme Court nominees since 2017, almost immediately after her court of appeals confirmation. In July 2018, after Anthony Kennedy's retirement announcement, she was reportedly one of three finalists– and the only woman– Trump considered as Kennedy's successor. Trump chose Brett Kavanaugh. Reportedly, although Trump liked Barrett, he was concerned about her lack of experience on the bench. At the time, Barrett had been on the bench for less than a year.
After Kavanaugh's selection, Barrett was expected to "stay in the spotlight" as a possible nominee for a future Supreme Court vacancy. Trump was reportedly "saving" Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat for Barrett if Ginsburg retired or died during Trump's presidency. Ginsburg died on September 18, 2020, and Barrett has been widely mentioned as the front-runner to succeed her.
Barrett is married to Jesse M. Barrett, a partner at SouthBank Legal in South Bend, Indiana, and former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana. They live in South Bend and have seven children: five biological children and two children adopted from Haiti. Their youngest biological child has special needs. Barrett is a practicing Roman Catholic.
While a full-time faculty member at Notre Dame, Barrett was affiliated with Faculty for Life, a pro-life group at the school. In 2015, she signed a joint letter to Catholic bishops that affirmed the Church's teachings, including "the value of human life from conception to natural death", and that family and marriage are "founded on the indissoluble commitment of a man and a woman".
In September 2017, The New York Times reported that Barrett was a member of a small, tightly knit Charismatic Christian group called People of Praise; its members swear a lifelong "covenant" (loyalty oath) to each other and are assigned a personal advisor, a "head" for men or "leader" for women, who gives direction on important personal decisions. In the past, female personal advisors were called “handmaidens.” As a judicial nominee in 2017, Barrett's affiliation with People of Praise did not come up during the confirmation process, however her religious faith was notably questioned by some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Affiliations and recognition
From 2010 to 2016, Barrett served by appointment of the Chief Justice on the Advisory Committee for the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure.
Barrett was a member of the Federalist Society from 2005 to 2006, and again from 2014 to 2017.
Barrett was invited to be a member of the American Law Institute.
- Amy Coney Barrett, Originalism and Stare Decisis, 92 Notre Dame L. Rev 1921 (2017).
- Amy Coney Barrett & John Copeland Nagle, Congressional Originalism, 19 U. Pa. J. Const. L. 1 (2016).
- Amy Coney Barrett, Countering the Majoritarian Difficulty, 32 Const. Comment. 61 (2017) (Book review for a symposium onOur Republican Constitution).
- Amy Coney Barrett, Suspension and Delegation, 99 Cornell L. Rev. 251 (2014).
- Amy Coney Barrett, Precedent and Jurisprudential Disagreement, 91 Tex. L. Rev. 1711 (2013).
- Amy Coney Barrett, Substantive Canons and Faithful Agency, 90 B.U. L. Rev. 109 (2010).
- Amy Coney Barrett, Introduction: Stare Decisis and Nonjudicial Actors, 83 Notre Dame L. Rev. 1147 (2008).
- Amy Coney Barrett, Procedural Common Law, 94 Virginia L. Rev. 813 (2008).
- Amy Coney Barrett, The Supervisory Power of the Supreme Court, 106 Colum. L. Rev. 101 (2006).
- Amy Coney Barrett, Statutory Stare Decisis in the Courts of Appeals, 73 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. 317 (2005).
- Amy Coney Barrett, Stare Decisis and Due Process, 74 U. Colo. L. Rev. 1011 (2003).
- Amy Coney Barrett & John H. Garvey, Catholic Judges in Capital Cases, 81 Marq. L. Rev. 303 (1998).