President Donald Trump on Monday will unveil his nominee to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court, and one of the candidates on his shortlist is Amy Coney Barrett, a federal appeals court judge in Chicago who formerly taught at Notre Dame’s law school. Many political observers see Barrett as one of Trump’s more divisive candidates, one who could further inflame the nation’s culture wars.
Barrett, a former law clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia, is considered a darling among evangelicals and a threat to liberals, who are concerned about how she will handle issues like abortion and LGBTQ rights, two areas where Kennedy mostly sided against his conservative colleagues.
Here’s a look at five other things you should know about Barrett.
1. She has strong support from religious conservatives
Barrett’s nomination hearing last year for the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals bolstered her appeal with conservatives. That’s because Barrett faced questions about her Catholic faith, with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) telling Barrett that “the dogma lives loudly within you,” a suggestion that Barrett’s judicial decisions would be influenced by her religious beliefs.
Barrett’s critics pointed to a 1998 paper in which she suggested that Catholic judges might have to recuse themselves from death penalty cases.
But conservatives criticized Feinstein for applying a “religious test,” which the U.S. Constitution prohibits. Legal scholars, however, debate if Feinstein’s comments amounted to such a test.
The Hon. Amy Coney Barrett, 7th Circuit...already went thru the meat grinder in her confirmation hearings and was fantastic. She’d be a phenomenal SCOTUS Justice.— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) June 29, 2018
Either way, the entire episode made Barrett a hero to conservatives, and Catholics put Feinstein’s statement on coffee mugs and T-shirts.
2. How would she decide cases involving abortion and LGBTQ rights?
Short answer: It’s not entirely clear because Barrett has only been a circuit court judge for about eight months, meaning there’s not a lot of judicial decisions to check for clues. But here are some noteworthy takeaways:
- During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly said he would appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision legalizing abortions.
- Barrett has previously said she doesn't believe Roe v. Wade will be overturned. But she said that as a circuit court judge. As David Lat, editor-at-large for the legal news site Above The Law, pointed out on WBEZ’s Morning Shift, Barrett is obligated to follow the Supreme Court’s precedent as a lower court judge. But “it is quite possible that Judge Barrett could vote to overturn Roe v. Wade as a Supreme Court justice, even though now in her current role, she is obligated to respect it as settled law,” Lat said.
- Barrett does not appear to be a firm believer in following Supreme Court precedents and once wrote at Notre Dame that "there is little reason to think that reversals [of past decisions] would do much damage" to the court's reputation.
As NPR notes, Barrett’s views on court precedents might not fly well with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and other moderates in the GOP, who could side with Democrats to sideline Barrett’s nomination.
3. Is she a member of a cult?
Barrett is a member of People of Praise, a smallish group of about 2,000 people who are mostly Catholic. Barrett’s critics have accused the group of engaging in cult-like behavior, but People of Praise received support from the late Chicago Cardinal Francis George, as the Sun-Times reports.
She could be on the court for a very, very long time4.
Barrett, if confirmed, would be the youngest justice on the court. She’s 46 years old, and that means she could remain on the bench for decades. The oldest member of the Supreme Court is Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at 85 years old. She would also become the fourth female justice on the court if she’s confirmed.
5. Barrett is a mother to a diverse family
Barrett adopted two children from a country Trump once referred to as a “shithole” — Haiti. She also has a child with special needs, according to the National Catholic Register.
Hunter Clauss is a digital editor for WBEZ. You can follow him at @whuntah.
Gabrielle A. Wright is a digital producer for WBEZ. You can follow her at @GabiAWright.