Amy Vivian Coney Barrett (born January 28, 1972) is an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. She is the fifth woman to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. She was nominated by President Donald Trump and has served since October 27, 2020. She was a United States circuit judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit from 2017 to 2020.

Trump nominated Barrett to the Seventh Circuit, and the Senate confirmed her on October 31, 2017. Before and while serving on the federal bench, she has been a professor of law at Notre Dame Law School, where she has taught civil procedure, constitutional law, and statutory interpretation.

On September 26, 2020, Trump nominated Barrett to succeed Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court of the United States. Her nomination was controversial, due to Senate Republicans’ previous refusal to hold hearings for Merrick Garland during an election year in 2016, claims that Republicans were rushing to fill the vacancy, and Ginsburg’s own wish for her replacement not to be chosen “until a new president is installed”. The next month, the United States Senate voted 52–48 to confirm her nomination, with all Democratic Party senators opposed and all but one Republican Party senator (Susan Collins) in favor.

Described as a protégée of Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom she clerked, Barrett supports an originalist interpretation of the Constitution.

Early life and education

Amy Vivian Coney was born in 1972 in New Orleans, Louisiana, the daughter of Linda (née Vath) and Michael Coney. She is the eldest of seven children and has five sisters and a brother. Her father worked as an attorney for Shell Oil Company and her mother was a high school French teacher and homemaker. Barrett has Irish and French ancestry. Her great-great-great-grandparents on her mother’s side were from Ballyconnell, Co Cavan, Ireland, while there is also Irish blood among her father’s ancestors. Her great-great-grandparents emigrated from France to New Orleans. Her family is devoutly Catholic, and her father is an ordained deacon at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Metairie, Louisiana, where she grew up.

She attended St. Mary’s Dominican High School, an all-girls Roman Catholic high school, from which she graduated in 1990. She was student body vice president of the high school. After high school, Barrett attended Rhodes College, where she majored in English literature and minored in French. She graduated in 1994 with a Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude and was inducted into Omicron Delta Kappa and Phi Beta Kappa. In her graduating class, she was named most outstanding English department graduate. She then attended the Notre Dame Law School on a full-tuition scholarship. She was an executive editor of the Notre Dame Law Review and graduated in 1997 ranked first in her class with a Juris Doctor summa cum laude.

Legal career

Clerkships and private practice

Barrett spent two years as a judicial law clerk after law school, first for Judge Laurence Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit from 1997 to 1998, and then for Justice Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1998 to 1999.

From 1999 to 2002, Barrett practiced law at Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin, a boutique law firm for litigation in Washington, D.C., that merged with the Houston, Texas-based law firm Baker Botts in 2001. While at Baker Botts, she worked on Bush v. Gore, the lawsuit that grew out of the 2000 United States presidential election, providing research and briefing assistance for the firm’s representation of George W. Bush.

Teaching and scholarship

Barrett served as a visiting associate professor and John M. Olin Fellow in Law at George Washington University Law School for a year before returning to her alma mater, Notre Dame Law School, in 2002. At Notre Dame, she taught federal courts, evidence, constitutional law, and statutory interpretation. In 2007, she was a visiting professor at the University of Virginia School of Law. Barrett was named a professor of law in 2010, and from 2014 to 2017 held the Diane and M.O. Miller II Research Chair of Law. Her scholarship focused on constitutional law, originalism, statutory interpretation, and stare decisis. Her academic work has been published in the Columbia, Cornell, Virginia, Notre Dame, and Texas law reviews.

At Notre Dame, Barrett received the “Distinguished Professor of the Year” award three times. From 2011 to 2016, she spoke on constitutional law at Blackstone Legal Fellowship, a summer program for law school students that the Alliance Defending Freedom established to inspire a “distinctly Christian worldview in every area of law”. While serving on the Seventh Circuit, Barrett commuted between Chicago and South Bend, continuing to teach courses on statutory interpretation and constitutional theory.

In 2010, Chief Justice John Roberts appointed Barrett to serve on the Advisory Committee for the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure.

Circuit Court of Appeals (2017–2020)

Nomination and confirmation

Amy Coney Barrett

Barrett before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 6, 2017

On May 8, 2017, President Donald Trump nominated Barrett to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit after Judge John Daniel Tinder took senior status. A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on her nomination was held on September 6, 2017. During the hearing, Senator Dianne Feinstein questioned Barrett about a law review article Barrett co-wrote in 1998 with Professor John H. Garvey in which they argued that Catholic judges should in some cases recuse themselves from death penalty cases due to their moral objections to the death penalty. Asked to “elaborate on the statements and discuss how you view the issue of faith versus fulfilling the responsibility as a judge today,” Barrett said that she had participated in many death-penalty appeals while serving as law clerk to Scalia, adding, “My personal church affiliation or my religious belief would not bear on the discharge of my duties as a judge” and “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.” Barrett emphasized that the article was written in her third year in law school and that she was “very much the junior partner in our collaboration.” 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.”

The hearing made Barrett popular with religious conservatives. Feinstein’s and other senators’ questioning was criticized by some Republicans and other observers, such as university presidents John I. Jenkins and Christopher Eisgruber, as an improper inquiry into a nominee’s religious belief that employed an unconstitutional “religious test” for office; others, such as Nan Aron, defended Feinstein’s line of questioning.

Judge Laurence Silberman, for whom Barrett first clerked after law school, swearing her in at her investiture for the Seventh Circuit.

Lambda Legal, an LGBT civil rights organization, co-signed a letter with 26 other gay rights organizations opposing Barrett’s nomination. The letter expressed doubts about her ability to separate faith from her rulings on LGBT matters. During her Senate hearing, Barrett was questioned about landmark LGBTQ legal precedents such as Obergefell v. Hodges, United States v. Windsor, and Lawrence v. Texas. She said these cases are “binding precedents” that she intended to “faithfully follow if confirmed” to the appeals court, as required by law. The letter Lambda Legal co-signed read, “Simply repeating that she would be bound by Supreme Court precedent does not illuminate—indeed, it obfuscates—how Professor Barrett would interpret and apply precedent when faced with the sorts of dilemmas that, in her view, ‘put Catholic judges in a bind.'”

Barrett’s nomination was supported by every law clerk she had worked with and all of her 49 faculty colleagues at Notre Dame Law school. 450 former students signed a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee supporting her nomination.

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. It 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 two days later. Barrett is the first and only woman to occupy an Indiana seat on the Seventh Circuit.

Selected cases

Textualism, Barrett says, requires that judges construe statutory language consistent with its “ordinary meaning”: “The law is comprised of words—and textualists emphasize that words mean what they say, not what a judge thinks that they ought to say.” According to Barrett, “Textualism stands in contrast to purposivism, a method of statutory interpretation that was dominant through much of the 20th century.” If a court concludes that statutory language appears to be in tension with a statute’s overarching goal, “purposivists argue that a judge should go with the goal rather than the text”. For Barrett, textualism is not literalism, nor is it about rigid dictionary definitions. “It is about identifying the plain communicative content of the words”.

Barrett clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia, and has spoken and written of her admiration of his adherence to the text of statutes and to originalism, writing: “His judicial philosophy is mine, too. A judge must apply the law as written. Judges are not policymakers, and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they may hold.” In one article she quoted Scalia on the importance of the original meaning of the Constitution: “The validity of government depends upon the consent of the governed … [s]o what the people agreed to when they adopted the Constitution … is what ought to govern us.” In a 2017 article in the law review Constitutional Commentary, reviewing a book by Randy E. Barnett, Barrett wrote: “The Constitution’s original public meaning is important not because adhering to it limits judicial discretion, but because it is the law. …The Constitution’s meaning is fixed until lawfully changed; thus, the court must stick with the original public meaning of the text even if it rules out the preference of a current majority.”

According to Barrett, textualists believe that when a court interprets the words of statutes, it should use the most natural meaning of those words to an ordinary skilled user of words at the time, even if the court believes that the legislature intended that the words be understood in a different sense. If the legislature wishes the words of a statute to carry a meaning different from how a non-legislator would understand them, it is free to define the terms in the statute. As Scalia put it, “[A]ll we can know is that [the legislature] voted for a text that they presumably thought would be read the same way any reasonable English speaker would read it.” Scalia insisted that “it is simply incompatible with democratic government, or indeed, even with fair government, to have the meaning of a law determined by what the lawgiver meant, rather than by what the lawmaker promulgated.”

Barrett has been critical of legal process theory, which gives a more expansive role to theory in shaping the interpretation of law than do textualism and originalism. She said that one example of the “process-based” approach can be found in King v. Burwell, in which the Supreme Court, for reasons related to the unorthodox legislative process that produced the Affordable Care Act, interpreted the phrase “Exchange established by the State” to mean “Exchange established by the State or the federal government.”

Suspension of habeas corpus

In a journal article, “Suspension and Delegation”, Barrett noted that constitutionally only Congress has the authority to decide the terms under which habeas corpus may be legitimately suspended. In all but one of the previous suspensions of habeas corpus, Barrett thought that Congress violated the Constitution “by enacting a suspension statute before an invasion or rebellion occurred—and in some instances, before one was even on the horizon.” In an educational essay, she sided with the dissenters in Boumediene v. Bush after considering historical factors.

Precedent

At her 2017 Senate confirmation hearing for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Barrett said she would follow Supreme Court precedent while on the appellate bench. In 2020, during her nomination acceptance speech at the White House Rose Garden, Barrett said, “Judges are not policymakers, and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they might hold”; she also said judges “must apply the law as written”. She explained her view of precedent in response to questions at the hearing.

In a 2013 article in Texas Law Review on the doctrine of stare decisis, Barrett listed seven cases that she believed should be considered “superprecedents”—cases the court would never consider overturning. They included Brown v. Board of Education and Mapp v. Ohio (incorporating the Fourth Amendment onto the states), but specifically excluded Roe v. Wade (1973). In explaining why it was excluded, Barrett referenced scholarship agreeing that in order to qualify as “superprecedent”, a decision must have widespread support from not only jurists but politicians and the public at large to the extent of becoming immune to reversal or challenge (for example, the constitutionality of paper money). She argued that the people must trust a ruling’s validity to such an extent that the matter has been taken “off of the court’s agenda”, with lower courts no longer taking challenges to them seriously. Barrett pointed to Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) as evidence that Roe had not attained this status, and quoted Richard H. Fallon Jr.: “[A] decision as fiercely and enduringly contested as Roe v. Wade has acquired no immunity from serious judicial reconsideration, even if arguments for overruling it ought not succeed.”

Concerning the relationship of textualism to precedent, Barrett said, “It makes sense that one committed to a textualist theory would more often find precedent in conflict with her interpretation of the Constitution than would one who takes a more flexible, all-things-considered approach.” She referenced a study by Michael Gerhardt which found that, as of 1994, no two justices in that century had called for overruling more precedents than justices Scalia and Hugo Black, both of whom were textualists, even though Black was a liberal and Scalia a conservative. Gerhardt also found that during the Rehnquist court’s last 11 years, the average number of times a justice called for the overruling of precedent was higher for textualist justices, with one per year coming from Ginsburg (non-textualist) up to just over two per year from Thomas (textualist). Gerhardt wrote that not all the calls for overruling were related to textualism issues, and that one must be careful in the inferences one draws from the numbers, which “do not indicate either why or on what basis the justices urged overruling.”

Affordable Care Act

In 2012, Barrett signed a letter criticizing the Obama administration’s approach to providing employees of religious institutions with birth control coverage without having the religious institutions pay for it.

Barrett has been critical of the majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts in National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius (2012), which upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. She wrote in 2017: “Chief Justice Roberts pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute. He construed the penalty imposed on those without health insurance as a tax, which permitted him to sustain the statute as a valid exercise of the taxing power; had he treated the payment as the statute did—as a penalty—he would have had to invalidate the statute as lying beyond Congress’s commerce power.”

Abortion

Barrett opposes abortion. In 2006, she signed an advertisement placed by St. Joseph County Right to Life, an anti-abortion group, in a South Bend, Indiana newspaper. The ad read, “We, the following citizens of Michiana, oppose abortion on demand and defend the right to life from fertilization to natural death. Please continue to pray to end abortion.” An unsigned, second page of the advertisement read, “It’s time to put an end to the barbaric legacy of Roe v. Wade and restore laws that protect the lives of unborn children.” In 2013, Barrett signed another ad against Roe v. Wade that appeared in Notre Dame’s student newspaper and described the decision as having “killed 55 million unborn children”. The same year, she spoke at two anti-abortion events at the university.

Personal life

Barrett and her family with President Trump on September 26, 2020

Then-Judge Barrett with her husband, Jesse

In 1999, Barrett married fellow Notre Dame Law School graduate Jesse M. Barrett, a partner at SouthBank Legal – LaDue Curran & Kuehn LLC, in South Bend, Indiana, and a law professor at Notre Dame Law School. Previously, Jesse Barrett had worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana for 13 years. The couple lives in South Bend and has seven children, two of whom were adopted from Haiti, one in 2005 and one after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Their youngest biological child has Down syndrome.

Barrett is a practicing Catholic. Since birth, she has been a member of the Christian parachurch community People of Praise, an ecumenical covenant community founded in South Bend. Associated with the Catholic charismatic renewal movement but not formally affiliated with the Catholic Church, about 90% of its approximately 1,700 members are Catholic. In People of Praise, Barrett has served as a laypastoral women’s leader.

Barrett has voted in both Republican and Democratic primaries. She tested positive for COVID-19 in the summer of 2020 and has since recovered.

Affiliations

Barrett was a member of the Federalist Society from 2005 to 2006 and from 2014 to 2017. She is a member of the American Law Institute.

Selected publications

A partial list of Barrett’s academic publications:

  • Barrett, Amy Coney; Garvey, John H. (1998). “Catholic Judges in Capital Cases”. Marquette Law Review. 81: 303–350.

  • Barrett, Amy Coney (2003). “Stare Decisis and Due Process”. University of Colorado Law Review. 74: 1011–1074.
  • Barrett, Amy Coney (2005). “Statutory Stare Decisis in the Courts of Appeals”. The George Washington Law Review. 73: 317–352.
  • Barrett, Amy Coney (2006). “The Supervisory Power of the Supreme Court”. Columbia Law Review. 106 (2): 324–387. JSTOR 4099494.
  • Barrett, Amy Coney (2008). “Introduction [Symposium: Stare Decisis and Nonjudicial Actors]”. Notre Dame Law Review. 83: 1147–1172.
  • Barrett, Amy Coney (2008). “Procedural Common Law” (PDF). Virginia Law Review. 94 (4): 813–888. JSTOR 25470574.
  • Barrett, Amy Coney (2010). “Substantive Canons and Faithful Agency” (PDF). Boston University Law Review. 90: 109–182.
  • Barrett, Amy Coney (2010). “The Interpretation/Construction Distinction in Constitutional Law: Annual Meeting of the AALS Section on Constitutional Law: Introduction”. Constitutional Commentary. 27: 1–8.
  • Barrett, Amy Coney (2013). “Precedent and Jurisprudential Disagreement” (PDF). Texas Law Review. 91: 1711–1737.
  • Barrett, Amy Coney (2014). “Suspension and Delegation”. Cornell Law Review. 99: 251–326.
  • Barrett, Amy Coney; Nagle, John Copeland (2016). “Congressional Originalism”. University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law. 19: 1–44.
  • Barrett, Amy Coney (2017). “Countering the Majoritarian Difficulty [review]”. Constitutional Commentary. 32: 61–84.
  • Barrett, Amy Coney (2017). “Originalism and Stare Decisis”. Notre Dame Law Review. 92: 1921–1944.
  • Barrett, Amy Coney (2017). “Congressional Insiders and Outsiders”. University of Chicago Law Review. 84: 2193–2212. JSTOR 45063672.
  • Barrett, Amy Coney; Bernstein, David E.; Clement, Paul D.; Rao, Neomi; Stras, David R. (2018). “Scalia Forum 2019: Panel Discussion” (PDF). George Mason Law Review. 26: 19–28.
  • Barrett, Amy Coney (2020). “Assorted Canards of Contemporary Legal Analysis: Redux”. Case Western Reserve Law Review. 70: 855–869.

See also

  • Donald Trump Supreme Court candidates
  • List of federal judges appointed by Donald Trump
  • List of law clerks of the Supreme Court of the United States (Seat 9)
  • White House COVID-19 outbreak, at a ceremony for Barrett’s nomination

Further reading

  • United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Questionnaire for the Nominee to the Court of Appeals for Amy Coney Barrett 115th Cong., 1st Sess., September 2017
  • ———, Questionnaire for the Nominee to the Supreme Court for Amy Coney Barrett, 116th Cong., 2nd Sess., September 2020
  • Congressional Research Service Legal Sidebar LSB10540, President Trump Nominates Judge Amy Coney Barrett: Initial Observations, by Victoria L. Killion (September 28, 2020)
  • ——— Legal Sidebar LSB10539, Judge Amy Coney Barrett: Selected Primary Material, Coordinated by Julia Taylor (September 28, 2020)
  • ——— Report R46562, Judge Amy Coney Barrett: Her Jurisprudence and Potential Impact on the Supreme Court, Coordinated by Valerie C. Brannon, Michael John Garcia, and Caitlain Devereaux Lewis (October 6, 2020)

  • Amy Coney Barrett at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
  • Amy Coney Barrett at Ballotpedia
  • Appearances on C-SPAN
  • Amy Coney Barrett publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database. (subscription required)
  • Selected Resources on Amy Coney Barrett from the Law Library of Congress
  • Nomination Research Guide from the Georgetown University Law Center library
  • Profile at Notre Dame Law School
  • Official Curriculum vitae by Notre Dame Law School
  • The Suspension Clause by Amy Barrett and Neal K. Katyal in the National Constitution Center Interactive Constitution
  • Selected works of Amy Barrett, University of Notre Dame: The Law School. Retrieved September 28, 2020
Legal offices
Preceded by
John Daniel Tinder
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
2017–2020
Succeeded by
Thomas Kirsch
Preceded by
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
2020–present
Incumbent
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Brett Kavanaugh
as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court
Order of Precedence of the United States
as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court
Succeeded by
Senior Chief Justices of the Supreme Court
None living
Succeeded by
Otherwise Sandra Day O’Connor
as Senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court