Act Four • Opinion
The flaw in the cult of RBG
The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Who is Amy Coney Barrett, the judge at the top of Trump’s list to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

Amy Coney Barrett is rumored to be one of the leading names on President Trump's shortlist of potential Supreme Court justices. Here's why she's controversial. (Video: Elyse Samuels/The Washington Post)

At the top of President Trump’s list to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court is U.S. Circuit Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a jurist in the mold of the late Antonin Scalia who fulfills nearly all criteria on conservatives’ wish list.

At 48 years old, Barrett could hold the lifetime seat for several decades. Trump’s first two nominees to the nation’s highest court, Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh, are in their 50s. Trump’s justices will potentially represent one-third of the Supreme Court for generations.

Why is she at the top of Trump’s list?

A devout Catholic who is fervently antiabortion, Barrett appeals to Trump’s conservative base. But Republicans also hope that for moderates such as Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), her gender makes her a more palatable replacement for Ginsburg, a feminist icon who spent her life fighting for gender equality.

Trump considered Barrett in 2018 to replace retired justice Anthony M. Kennedy, but reportedly said he was saving her for Ginsburg’s slot.

What is her judicial background?

Trump first nominated Barrett to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in 2017. Previously, she’d taught law at the University of Notre Dame for 15 years, so she had no previous judicial record to scrutinize. Democrats balked at her nomination, questioning whether the academic could be an impartial arbiter because of her deep religious convictions. Republicans accused Democrats of applying a religious test in their questioning.

However, Barrett wasn’t a total novice to the judicial system. Out of law school, she clerked for Scalia, who she considers a mentor and with whom she shares a belief in originalism, which is the idea that judges should attempt to interpret the words of the Constitution as the authors intended when they were written.

What would be the impact of Barrett’s religion on her rulings on issues such as Roe v. Wade?

During her confirmation hearing to the appeals court, Barrett said in that role she would “follow all Supreme Court precedent without fail” and would regard decisions such as Roe v. Wade as binding precedent.

“I would never impose my own personal convictions upon the law,” she added.

But Democrats pointed to comments she had made at Notre Dame years before about being a “different kind of lawyer.” She said we should always remember that a “legal career is but a means to an end … and that end is building the Kingdom of God.”

She has previously written that judges shouldn’t be held to upholding Supreme Court precedents, such as Roe v. Wade. In a 2018 Washington Post article that examined how Barrett’s beliefs would affect her decision-making, experts who had studied her writings concluded that she would join other conservatives on the court in supporting overturning Roe v. Wade.