“I’m really impressed.” Words spoken about Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Words spoken by a surprising voice, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Like many Americans, I watched the confirmation hearings of Judge Barrett this past week. Senator Feinstein put to words what many of us were thinking. Judge Barrett is strong and confident. Her legal prowess was evident as she dissected with ease complicated doctrines like severability and could easily recall from memory the extensive background of obscure cases. She remained calm, cool and collected under fire. And did it all with only a blank pad of paper sitting on the table in front of her. No notes. Really impressive indeed.
It’s plain to see Judge Barrett holds a deep respect for the judicial process and the United States Constitution. She recognizes the job of a justice is not to make laws, it’s to interpret them. She will be an independent and impartial justice, or as Chief Justice Roberts would put it, an umpire calling balls and strikes. She understands a justice’s responsibility is to interpret the Constitution and apply the law as written, not based on their personal views or political ideologies.
Standing on its own, Judge Barrett’s legal expertise makes her incredibly distinguished and qualified for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. But when you hear her full story, you gain a new appreciation for the woman who could sit on the highest court in the land.
Judge Barrett grew up in New Orleans, the oldest of seven kids and 29 grandchildren – a good Catholic family. Her mother was a high school French teacher who inspired her to choose the language as a minor in college. Her father was a lawyer who inspired her to join the legal profession. She attended an all-girls Catholic high school where she was elected student body vice president. After high school, she attended Rhodes College where she majored in English literature and graduated magna cum laude.
After earning her undergraduate degree, Judge Barrett made the decision to follow in her father’s footsteps and attend law school. When it came to choosing where she would attend, there were many options. She was looking for a law school that wouldn’t just educate her as a lawyer, but also develop and inspire her as a whole person. She landed on Notre Dame, a school where she would receive a full-tuition scholarship, serve as executive editor of the law review, graduate the top of her class, and most importantly, meet and fall in love with Jesse Barrett, a fellow Notre Dame Law graduate.
While Jesse was an only child, they knew they wanted to have a big family. Together, the Barretts have seven children – five biological and two adopted from Haiti. Their daughter Vivian was adopted in 2005. When she joined the family, she was so malnourished that doctors said she might never talk or walk normally. She couldn’t make any sounds, had rickets and at 14 months old was wearing 0-3 month clothing. Today, Vivian is a strong young woman. She does CrossFit training and can deadlift as much as the male athletes at her gym. And as for the speech problem, Judge Barrett, says, “I assure you that she has no trouble talking.” Spoken like a true mother.
In 2010, after an earthquake devastated the country of Haiti, the Barretts received a call saying another baby had come up for adoption. This news came at an interesting time for their family as they had recently learned they were expecting their fifth child. Not knowing quite what to do, Mrs. Barrett threw on her coat, because it was January in Indiana, and went for a walk. She ended up finding a seat on a bench in a nearby cemetery. As she sat, she thought to herself, “If life is really hard, at least it’s short.” She went home and made the decision to adopt the baby, John Peter.
Every parent wants what’s best for their children. During her confirmation hearing, Judge Barrett was asked the question that’s on all of our minds. Why are you doing this? Why put yourself through such an excruciating process, one that combs over everything you’ve done your entire life, one that opens you and your children up to being mocked and attacked? Her answer speaks for itself: “In many ways, the children are the reason not to do it, but they’re also the reason to do it, because if we are to protect our institutions, and protect the freedoms, and protect the rule of law that’s the basis for the society and the freedom that we all enjoy, if we want that for our children and our children’s children, then we need to participate in that work.”
I look forward to meeting with Judge Barrett this coming week and gaining additional insight into her life and judicial philosophy.
Photo: Judge Amy Coney Barrett introduces her family on the second day of her Supreme Court confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Getty Images