Judge Amy Coney Barrett spent 16 years as a legal academic before President Donald Trump appointed her to a federal appeals court in 2017. Now, she is expected to be Trump’s nominee to become a Supreme Court justice and replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
CNN, CBS News, The New York Times and other media outlets reported that Barrett would be the president’s pick, roughly 24 hours before a scheduled White House event to officially make the announcement. The news outlets cited unnamed people close to the process who asked not to be identified. A Senate aide who would only speak on background told CQ Roll Call that the White House has signaled that Trump intends to pick Barrett.
Barrett, born in 1972, was a law professor at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, where she went to law school, and wrote in the areas of federal courts, constitutional law and statutory interpretation. Her record reflects a commitment to the legal approach championed by conservative Supreme Court justices such as the late Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom she clerked in 1998 and 1999.
Ahead of a 55-43 confirmation vote for Barrett in October 2017 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the floor that her writings as a professor “clearly show a nominee who will uphold our Constitution and our nation's laws as they are written — as they are written — not as she wishes they were.”
She is the first Indiana woman to sit on the 7th Circuit, which is based in Chicago and covers Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. And if confirmed, she would be only the fifth female Supreme Court justice, and would join two female justices currently on the high court.
Barrett also speaks freely and openly about her faith — she is a Roman Catholic — and its importance to her, something that became a point of contention during her confirmation hearings but also boosted her profile in Washington’s conservative legal circles. That history also means she has a much thinner record of judicial decisions that Democrats can pick apart.
Barrett’s opinions since taking the 7th Circuit bench will be touted by conservatives and criticized by liberals when it comes to employment rights, consumer rights, immigration, abortion and more.
In particular, Barrett joined a dissent in a legal challenge to the constitutionality of a 2016 Indiana law signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence that set requirements for the disposal of fetal remains and banned abortion on the basis of characteristics such as disability, race and gender.
In that June 2018 ruling, Barrett joined other judges who would have wanted the full 7th Circuit to reconsider the decision of a three-judge panel of that circuit that struck down both provisions.
The Supreme Court eventually heard the case and in 2019 backed the disposal provision but left in place a 7th Circuit decision to strike down the ban.
Barrett also joined a dissent later in 2019, when the full 7th Circuit declined to review a three-judge panel ruling that temporarily blocked enforcement of a 2017 Indiana law that required abortion providers for women under 18 years old to notify parents before a procedure.
Barrett wrote a dissent in June 2020 to a panel decision that halted the Trump administration’s public charge rule that denies visas to immigrants likely to need government assistance.
During her confirmation process in 2017, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee quizzed her about the role her Catholic faith might play in her job, if confirmed, saying it was appropriate since they said she had no judicial experience for senators to examine. Barrett had previously raised the issue in a 1998 article about how orthodox Catholic judges might act on the bench.
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel, told Barrett during a confirmation hearing that one could conclude “the dogma lives loudly within you,” and that was a “concern” on issues such as abortion rights. Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., asked her, “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?”
That prompted a discussion on the committee about the role of questions about the faith of judicial nominees — and could factor heavily into the confirmation process.
Barrett defended her ability to transition from the academic world to the bench during the confirmation process.
“My role as an academic was to stand outside of the system and to provoke students of the law to think hard about how the system works,” Barrett wrote in response to questions in the confirmation process. “Sometimes that involves critiques of the system. A judge, by contrast, operates within the system, and her duty is to apply the law as it exists.”
Barrett was born and raised in Louisiana. She and her husband, Jesse, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Indiana, have seven children, including two children adopted from Haiti and one special needs child.