Judge Amy Coney Barrett: Her Jurisprudence and Potential Impact on the Supreme Court (CRS R46562)

On September 26, 2020, President Donald J. Trump announced the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit to the Supreme Court of the United States to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on September 18, 2020. Judge Barrett has been a judge on the Seventh Circuit since November 2017, having been nominated by President Trump and confirmed by the Senate earlier that year. The nominee earned her law degree from Notre Dame Law School in 1997, and clerked for Judge Laurence H. Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. From 2002 until her appointment to the Seventh Circuit in 2017, Judge Barrett was a law professor at Notre Dame Law School, and she remains part of the law school faculty. Her scholarship has focused on topics such as theories of constitutional interpretation, stare decisis, and statutory interpretation. If confirmed, Judge Barrett would be the fifth woman to serve as a Supreme Court Justice.

During Judge Barrett’s September 26 Supreme Court nomination ceremony, she paid tribute to both Justice Ginsburg and her former mentor, Justice Scalia. “Should I be confirmed,” Judge Barrett said, “I will be mindful of who came before me,” stating that Justice Ginsburg’s trailblazing career in the law “has won the admiration of women around the country, and indeed all over the world.” In describing the “incalculable influence” that Justice Scalia, in particular, had on her life, Judge Barrett remarked: “His judicial philosophy is mine too: A judge must apply the law as written. Judges are not policymakers, and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they might hold.” In her academic writings, the nominee has frequently explored aspects of that judicial philosophy, including the use of an originalist approach to constitutional interpretation tempered by pragmatic considerations and a textualist approach to statutory interpretation.

Notwithstanding the difficulty of predicting how a nominee may vote in a particular case, a judge’s prior judicial decisions, writings, and statements may provide insight into her approach to resolving legal questions. Such assessments, however, may prove particularly challenging with Judge Barrett: because she became a judge in 2017, she has written fewer judicial opinions compared to recent nominees who served on the bench for more time. And although her scholarly publications expound theories of constitutional and statutory interpretation, her engagement with these topics from an academic standpoint may not necessarily predict whether she would adopt any particular methodology as a Supreme Court Justice.

This report provides an overview of Judge Barrett’s jurisprudence and scholarship and discusses how the Supreme Court might be affected by her confirmation. It first explores the nominee’s views on three cross-cutting issues—the role of the judiciary, constitutional construction, and statutory interpretation. The report then addresses the nominee’s jurisprudence in six areas of law where the Supreme Court has been closely divided or where the nominee has issued significant opinions, particularly in cases where she disagreed with other jurists. These areas of the law were identified primarily by reviewing Judge Barrett’s written judicial opinions and academic scholarship. The report concludes with a number of tables that catalog and briefly describe each of the roughly 90 majority, concurring, and dissenting opinions authored by Judge Barrett during her 35-month tenure on the federal bench.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett: Her Jurisprudence and Potential Impact on the Supreme Court,” CRS Report R46562, October 6, 2020 (95-page PDFPDF)

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