Amy Coney Barrett: Trump’s Supreme Court nominee has a history of controversy

John T. Bennett
·4-min read
US Circuit Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2017. (Screen grab via C-SPAN)
US Circuit Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2017. (Screen grab via C-SPAN)

Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court seat vacated by liberal stalwart Ruth Bader Ginsburg is regarded as a judge who checks the president’s box of sticking closely to the exact wording of the 231-year-old US Constitution.

Amy Coney Barrett, a 48-year-old conservative judge on the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, met privately with the president at the White House on Monday. He emerged from that session and praised her qualifications.

“She’s one of the people that’s very respected, but they’re all respected,” he said of those on his five-woman shortlist. “She is certainly one of the candidates, yes.”

At a campaign rally on Tuesday night in Pennsylvania, the president promised his supporters he would nominate someone who he decides meets the criteria of being among “conservative believers in our country, solid, incredible people.” Over the weekend, he vowed to pick someone who doesn’t believe in making policies from the bench, but on Tuesday said high court justices “set policy.”

On Saturday afternoon Ms Barrett appeared at the White House with Mr Trump, who confirmed that he was choosing her as his third Supreme Court nominee, with Republican senators likely to quickly confirm her this year, possibly before the 3 November election. Her opinions as a federal jurist show she shares Mr Trump’s views on gun rights and his hardline immigration stance. Ms Coney Barrett’s opinions on abortion rights align with the president’s promises to his conservative base. Here is a snapshot of some of her most telling opinions.

Abortion rights

A devout Catholic, Ms Coney Barrett has never ruled in a case directly challenging the high court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision to legalize abortion across the country.

Women’s rights and abortion advocates, however, are sounding alarms that her appointment could put that decision at risk of being overturned.

She has never been a part of a decision specifically on abortion rights. But a handful of her decisions, experts say, suggest opposition to other rulings that shot down restrictions on abortion rights.

In a 1998 Marquette Law Review article she co-wrote exploring the effect of the Catholic church’s teachings on federal jurists, Ms Coney Barrett said the church’s views on prohibiting abortion and euthanasia are “absolute” because they “take away innocent life.”

As a judge, she has voted for her court to rehear cases from lower panels on abortion rights.

Second Amendment

Ms Coney Barrett is considered an “originalist” on issues like gun rights, arguing the Constitution’s Second Amendment is clear and should be applied ultra-literally in just about any circumstance.

In the 2019 case Kanter v. Barr, she dissented from the majority’s opinion upholding the government’s right to deny what it deems dangerous people from legally obtaining firearms.

“At the time of the country’s founding, she said, legislatures took away the gun rights of people who were believed to be dangerous,” Amy Howe wrote for SCOTUS Blog. “But the laws at the heart of Kanter’s case are too broad, she argued, because they ban people like Kanter from having a gun without any evidence that they pose a risk. Barrett stressed that the Second Amendment ‘confers an individual right, intimately connected with the natural right of self-defense and not limited to civic participation’.”

Those views align with Mr Trump’s promises to his base, which he repeated on Tuesday night in Moon Township near Pittsburgh.

“If I weren’t president, you know the pressure, your Second Amendment would be obliterated. It would maybe be gone, but at a minimum obliterated,” he said to boos. “They haven't touched your Second Amendment, not even touched it because I'm here to block. I'm a blocking force. I'm like a lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“I'm a blocking force. No, they haven't touched it, but your Second Amendment would be under siege,” he warned as part of his fear-spawning campaign.

Immigration

Ms Coney Barrett’s views on immigration also put her in the same hardline camp as the president.

In a June dissent, she wrote that she favoured allowing one of his contested policies.

She was out-ruled, 2-1, to end the so-called “public charge” rule in Illinois.

That Trump policy denies legal permanent residency to some migrants who are deemed most likely to require government assistance at some point.