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Amy Coney Barrett, Supreme Court pick, is Scalia's heir

Judge Amy Coney Barrett in Milwaukee on Aug.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett in Milwaukee on Aug. 24, 2018. Credit: Rachel Malehorn via AP

CHICAGO — Although Amy Coney Barrett is the president's choice to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she is more aptly described as heir to another departed Supreme Court justice: conservative hero Antonin Scalia.

Like Scalia, for whom she once clerked, she is a committed Roman Catholic as well as a firm devotee of his favored interpretation of the Constitution known as originalism. Those qualifications delight many on the right but dismay liberals and others who fear her votes could result in the chipping away of some laws, especially the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

President Donald Trump announced his choice of the 48-year-old Indiana judge on Saturday afternoon at the White House, setting Barrett on the path to help conservatives hold sway over the court for decades to come.

Her selection is as sure to energize the president’s political base as it is to galvanize his foes with only weeks left to Election Day. Republican leaders in the Senate have already said they have the votes to confirm her nomination this year, likely before the election.

But beyond the 2020 election, the Barrett elevation could bring a national reckoning over abortion, an issue that has divided many Americans bitterly for almost half a century. The idea of overturning or gutting Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision, has been an animating political issue exploited by both sides.

Her legal writings and speeches show a commitment to originalism, a concept that involves justices endeavoring to decipher original meanings of texts in assessing whether someone’s rights have been violated. Many liberals say that approach is too rigid and doesn’t allow the Constitution's consequences to adjust to vastly changing times.

On abortion, questions have arisen about Barrett's involvement in organizations that vigorously oppose it. But she has not said publicly she would, if given the chance, seek to scale back rights affirmed by the high court.

Barrett has been a federal judge since 2017, when Trump nominated her to the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. But as a longtime University of Notre Dame law professor, she had already established herself as a reliable conservative in the mold of Scalia.

She gained a reputation as a Scalia clerk in the late 1990s as bright and adept at picking apart poorly reasoned arguments. Ara Lovitt, who clerked with her at the time, recalls that at her investiture ceremony for the 7th Circuit, Scalia had high praise for her.

"‘Isn’t Amy great,’" Lovitt remembers Scalia saying.

Before becoming a judge, she discussed how court precedents provide welcome stability in the law. But she also seemed to leave the door open to the possibility of reversing ones about which there remained sharp disagreement.

"Once a precedent is deeply rooted," a 2017 article in the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law, which Barrett co-wrote, said, "the Court is no longer required to deal with the question of the precedent’s correctness." But it added: "None of this is to say that a Justice cannot attempt to overturn long-established precedent. While institutional features may hinder that effort, a Justice is free to try."

Barrett and her husband, Jesse Barrett, a former federal prosecutor, both graduated from Notre Dame Law School. They have seven children, including two adopted from Haiti and one with special needs.

She would be the only justice on the current court not to have received her law degree from an Ivy League school. The eight current justices all attended either Harvard or Yale.

How her religious beliefs might guide her legal views became a focus for some Democrats during bruising confirmation hearings after Barrett's nomination for the 7th Circuit. That prompted Republicans to accuse Democrats of seeking to impose a religious test on Barrett's fitness for the job.

At Notre Dame, where Barrett began teaching at 30, she often invoked God in articles and speeches. In a 2006 address, she encouraged graduating law students to see their careers as a means to "building the kingdom of God."

She was considered a finalist in 2018 for the high court before Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh for the seat that opened when Justice Anthony Kennedy retired. Even some conservatives worried her sparse judicial record made it too hard to predict how she might rule, concerned she could end up like other seemingly conservatives who wound up more moderate.

Three years on, her record now includes around 100 opinions and dissents, in which she often illustrated Scalia’s influence by delving deep into historical minutiae to glean the meaning of original texts.

A 2019 dissent in a gun-rights case argued a person convicted of a nonviolent felony shouldn’t be automatically barred from owning a gun. All but a few pages of her 37-page dissent were devoted to the history of gun rules for convicted criminals in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Barrett has twice joined dissenting opinions asking for abortion-related decisions to be thrown out and reheard by the full appeals court. Last year, after a three-judge panel blocked an Indiana law that would make it harder for a minor to have an abortion without her parents being notified, Barrett voted to have the case reheard by the full court.

She wrote a unanimous three-judge panel decision in 2019 making it easier for men alleged to have committed sexual assaults on campus to challenge the proceedings against them. And she was in dissent in June when her two colleagues on a 7th Circuit panel put on hold, just in Chicago, the Trump administration policy that could jeopardize permanent resident status for immigrants who use food stamps, Medicaid and housing vouchers.

Barrett would assume the court seat with already substantial wealth, and her financial disclosures show close ties to a number of conservative groups. Barrett and her husband have investments worth between $845,000 and $2.8 million, according to her 2019 financial disclosure report. Judges report the value of their investments in ranges. Their money is invested mostly in mutual funds, some of which are for retirement and their children’s education.

When she was nominated to the appeals court in 2017, Barrett reported assets of just over $2 million, including her home in Indiana worth nearly $425,000, and a mortgage on the property with a balance of $175,000.

In the two previous years, Barrett received $4,200 in two equal payments from Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian law firm, her financial report shows. In 2018 and 2019, she participated in 10 events sponsored by the Federalist Society, which paid for her transportation, meals and lodging in New York, New Orleans, Washington and other cities. Several events took place at leading law schools.

Barrett was raised in New Orleans and was the eldest child of a lawyer for Shell Oil Co. She earned her undergraduate degree in English literature in 1994 at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.

She also served as a law clerk for Laurence Silberman for a year at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Between clerkships and entering academia, she worked from 1999 to 2001 at a law firm in Washington, Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin.

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