Notre Dame reacts to alumna and professor’s nomination to the highest Court
Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings on Monday, October 12, highlighted Notre Dame’s campus dialogue surrounding the recent nomination.
Barrett, who graduated from Notre Dame Law School in 1997 and has served on the Law School faculty since 2002, is an award-winning teacher and prolific scholar. She is well-known for her pro-life beliefs and commitment to the Catholic faith, and has served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit since 2017.
Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins reacted warmly to Barrett’s nomination, describing her as a person of integrity who he believed would serve with distinction on the Supreme Court.
Professor and former dean of the Notre Dame Law School Patricia O’Hara also spoke highly of Barrett at the confirmation hearings Monday. In introducing and recommending Barrett, O’Hara discussed the intelligence, fairness, rigorous work ethic, and unbiased commitment to the law required to serve as a Supreme Court justice. “I know firsthand, from having worked closely with Judge Barrett for almost 20 years, that she possesses all these same qualifications in abundance,” she said.
Despite this support from her Alma Mater, since Barrett’s nomination was announced, many political figures have attacked the Supreme Court nominee for her faith, adopted children, and association with the group the People of Praise.
Professor Richard Garnett, Barrett’s friend and colleague of over 17 years, said that she is a careful and thoughtful jurist who will bring professionalism and technical excellence to the court if confirmed. “She was and is a beloved teacher at the law school,” Garnett said in an interview. “I think it’s very clear among Notre Dame Law School students and graduates that Amy is respected across the political spectrum.”
“Our students then and now hold her in awe for her intellect and for her consummate professionalism.” O’Hara said, “To read her student teaching evaluations is like reading a thesaurus that only has superlatives in it.”
Recently, several former students of Barrett’s penned an article calling the nominee “the paragon of a professor” who taught them how to be women of integrity and virtue. Alyson Cox, one of the Notre Dame law students who wrote the article, said she experienced Barrett’s brilliance, fairness, and open-mindedness in the classroom.
“She is rightly-known to students at Notre Dame Law School for being a tough professor, a kind professor, and a fair professor,” Cox wrote in a statement to the Rover. “She is a model to all the members of the Law School community of how to challenge ideas without attacking people, and she would be an excellent role model in American public life.”
Junior Theology and Japanese major Francine Shaft thinks that Barrett’s nomination is a manifestation of Notre Dame’s success in developing young leaders. “Institutionally it goes to show the caliber of Notre Dame and that Notre Dame really is creating leaders for our country,” she said. “It shows us that we can achieve the same things that someone like Barrett is achieving.”
Despite this high praise for Barrett, there are some in the Notre Dame community who disagree with her nomination. Senior Economics major David Philips wrote in The Observer that he finds Trump’s nomination of Barrett troubling. “Amy Coney Barrett represents a reprehensible alliance with Trump and a disdain for American democracy,” he wrote. “In short, she represents the worst of Notre Dame.”
Similarly, sophomore Business Analytics major Krista Akiki expressed disappointment in the nomination and feared that Barrett’s faith would affect her judicial decision-making in areas regarding abortion, healthcare, and same sex marriage. “What Judge Barrett believes in and how she chooses to practice her faith is her own personal choice,” Akiki wrote in a statement to the Rover. “However, she cannot judge on the Supreme Court solely from these beliefs. She cannot impose what she believes on every citizen. She has to remain fair and impartial despite race, religious beliefs, and other social or demographic criteria.”
These concerns mirror Democratic anxieties that Barrett will attempt to impose her personal views on the law. During Barrett’s confirmation trials in 2017, California Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein told Barrett that, referring to her Catholic faith, “the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern.” Recently, one of Biden’s staffers stated that orthodox Catholics, Muslims, and Jews should not be allowed to serve on the Supreme Court due to their “intolerant” beliefs.
Garnett said these concerns are offensive since Barrett has already testified under oath to uphold the law.
“For Senators to suggest that they don’t believe her because she’s a Catholic is deeply offensive,” he said. “Whatever her religious views might be, she’s just as able to fulfill her judicial oath as any other member of the Court. After all, every judge has beliefs, commitments, and values and every judge takes the same oath to do his or her best to follow the law. It is strange to say, ‘we believe some judges when they take that oath but we don’t believe Catholics.’”
In the hearings, some senators raised concerns about whether her pro-life views call into question the future of Roe v. Wade. These concerns demonstrate a misunderstanding of the nature of the Supreme Court, Garnett said. As a Supreme Court justice, Barrett would have the responsibility of deciding cases in accord with the law, not her own views.
“Justice Barrett would reach the same conclusion Justice Ginsburg did in at least half the cases, and probably more,” Professor Garnett said, adding that the late Justice Ginsburg and Judge Barrett share an interest in technical questions of civil procedure. “It may well be that Judge Barrett, if confirmed, would sometimes reach different decisions than Justice Ginsburg would have. Of course, that would not mean that Barrett is wrong.”
The confirmation hearings are set to end Thursday evening, and the committee vote on Barrett’s nomination is expected to occur on Oct. 22. Having a Notre Dame graduate serve as one of the nine Supreme Court justices would be a real honor, Garnett said:
“I’m very proud of our law school. I think our students are excellent and our graduates make us proud. Barrett is one of our graduates as well as a faculty member, and I am sure she will make us very proud as well.”
Theresa Olohan is a senior from Virginia studying Political Science and Journalism at Notre Dame. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.