Amy Coney Barrett spoke at a Hillsdale in D.C. event last year. Courtesy | External Affairs

On Sat­urday, Pres­ident Donald Trump appointed Amy Coney Barrett, a Notre Dame Law pro­fessor and U.S. Circuit judge to the United States Supreme Court. As Trump’s prospective third appointee to the court, Barrett is expected to undergo an expe­dited con­fir­mation process as Senate Repub­licans work to confirm Barrett ahead of the November elec­tions.

Barrett is a Notre Dame Law alumna, making her the first non-Ivy League law graduate to be appointed to the Supreme Court since Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the very first woman to serve on the court.

For many Hillsdale stu­dents and faculty, Barrett has been a familiar name for some time. In May of last year, Barrett par­tic­i­pated in a dis­cussion on the respon­si­bil­ities of the judi­ciary at the Allan P. Kirby Center for Con­sti­tu­tional Studies and Cit­i­zenship.

Barrett was also scheduled to address the class of 2020 during the college’s 168th spring com­mencement cer­emony earlier this year before it was can­celled and rescheduled due to the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

Barrett’s most recent visit to Hillsdale’s campus was in March 2018 when she spoke on the evo­lution of the Supreme Court at an event hosted by the Fed­er­alist Society. Pro­fessor of Phi­losophy and Religion Nathan Schlueter, who is the faculty advisor for Hillsdale’s Fed­er­alist Society chapter, jumped at the idea of bringing Barrett to campus.

“At the time, all of the things I saw and knew about her when she was a nominee for the circuit court were very impressive to me,” Schlueter said. “Her view is that the role of judges is not to read their own judg­ments about the natural law into their deci­sions, but to interpret the text as faith­fully as pos­sible.”

Schlueter noted that Barrett iden­tifies herself as a prodigy of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who is almost uni­ver­sally praised within con­ser­v­ative circles. Assistant Pro­fessor of Pol­itics Adam Car­rington expressed his delight over Scalia having been Barrett’s mentor.

“She would be in the mold of a Scalia tex­tu­alist and orig­i­nalist, and I think that that would be a sig­nif­icant improvement over Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the justice she is replacing,” Car­rington said.

Car­rington further noted the esteem that Barrett has gar­nered among her col­leagues. Even those within her pro­fession who vehe­mently dis­agree with her con­sider her among the best and most bril­liant legal minds in the country.

Schlueter also men­tioned that in addition to Barrett’s intel­li­gence, her integrity will make it dif­ficult for Demo­c­ratic oppo­sition to be too vocal during her hearings. 

“They’re not going to find much per­sonal dirt on her,” Schlueter said. “The only dirt they’re going to be able to find is going to come across as deeply prej­u­dicial towards reli­gious beliefs.”

Barrett became what Schlueter described as a kind of focal point for the culture war over reli­gious freedom fol­lowing a con­tro­versial comment from Senator Dianne Fein­stein during Barrett’s con­fir­mation hearing to the Court of Appeals in 2017. Fein­stein told Barrett, “the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern.”

Because of this incident, Barrett’s Supreme Court appointment has been plagued by reli­gious con­tro­versy. Barrett, a devout Catholic, has been dis­paraged by leftist critics for her tra­di­tional beliefs, including that of a woman’s familial duties.

Lec­turer of History Dedra Birzer praised Barrett for being an example of a woman who meets the respon­si­bil­ities of family life and also has a suc­cessful pro­fes­sional career. Birzer said that Barrett’s career exposes the false nar­rative that there must be a dichotomy between being a mother and having a career.

“That’s a false choice,” Birzer said. “Barrett has a big family, a really great mar­riage, a sup­portive husband, and she’s nom­i­nated to the Supreme Court at 48.”

Besides Barrett’s reli­gious con­vic­tions, another point of con­tro­versy sur­rounding Barrett’s appointment has been Senator Mitch McConnell’s decision to rush through the con­fir­mation process before the upcoming pres­i­dential election despite having refused to hold hearings for former Pres­ident Barack Obama’s Supreme Court pick nine months before the 2016 pres­i­dential election. As a result, McConnell has been branded as hyp­o­critical.

Car­rington explained that McConnell’s treatment of the Barrett appointment has been both con­sti­tu­tional and actually largely con­sistent with what he said in 2016.

“As far as the con­sis­tency of McConnell, he didn’t just say that a vacancy in an election year was the only cri­teria to determine whether or not a vacancy should be left until after an election,” Car­rington said.

McConnell also pro­vided other reasons for refusing to allow former Pres­ident Barack Obama to fill a Supreme Court vacancy in 2016. He referred to the results of the 2014 midterm elec­tions that gave Senate Repub­licans more seats, por­traying this as a mandate from the American people to delay filling any vacancies. McConnell also stressed the fact that Obama was a lame-duck Pres­ident, meaning he was not up for reelection.

“According to those cri­teria, at least for now, it is entirely con­sistent to pursue con­firming Barrett,” Car­rington said. “If Biden were to win and the Senate were to flip, that nom­i­nation would still be con­sti­tu­tionally per­mis­sible, but it would be con­tra­dictory to what McConnell said in 2016.”