Amy Coney Barrett: How a Catholic professor and mother-of-seven became the conservative dream for Supreme Court

Multi-million dollar lobbying campaign is underway to influence Donald Trump and senators

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Wednesday 04 July 2018 17:52 BST
Trump claims he won't ask potential SCOTUS nominees their stance on Roe v Wade, but will be 'putting conservative people on'

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Louise Thomas

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A devout Catholic, law professor and mother-of seven has emerged as the conservatives favourite as Donald Trump prepares to name a new Supreme Court Justice - an appointment that could have huge ramifications on many of the nation’s most controversial issues.

After Justice Anthony Kennedy - a frequent wing voter on the court - announced last month he was standing down after 31 years service, Mr Trump said he was working through a list of 25 replacements and would announce his decision on Monday July 9.

Reports suggest the president has now narrowed the potential candidates down to five and that this group contains two women. The White House said earlier this week he had personally spoken to seven individuals.

“These are very talented people, brilliant people,” Mr Trump said on Tuesday during an appearance in West Virginia. “We’re going to give you a great one.”

One of the candidates the president spoke to was Amy Coney Barrett, a former professor of law at Notre Dame Law School, who become a hero of many religious conservatives when she was appointed to the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals last year.

During confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein challenged her over her religious beliefs, saying it seemed to many observers “the dogma lives loudly within you and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that people have fought for for years in this country”.

As it was, Ms Barrett, a former law clerk to the late Justice Antonin Scalia, was confirmed 55-43, and the grilling she received from liberal Ms Feinstein cemented her bona fides in the eyes of many who want Mr Trump to appoint a conservative judge who would be willing to overturn or undermine Roe V Wade, the 1973 case that guarantees women the right to a legal abortion.

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During the election campaign, Mr Trump said he believed that landmark ruling would “naturally” become overturned as a result of the justices he appointed to the court. “I am pro-life,” he said, during one of three presidential debates with Hillary Clinton.

“Judge Amy Coney Barrett would make an outstanding Supreme Court Justice,” tweeted former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is known to be close to Mr Trump.

“Her clarity and intellectual strength in the Senate hearings for her current judgeship showed an intellect and a depth of thought that would be powerful on the Supreme Court.

By contrast, Senate minority Chuck Schumer has attacked Ms Barrett’s qualifications.

“Amy Coney Barrett is a judge on the Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit & on @realDonaldTrump’s pre-approved list for SCOTUS. She passed his ‘litmus test’ on overturning Roe v Wade & striking down the ACA. Here’s where she stands on Americans' big issues,” he said in a series of tweets.

“Barrett attacked the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the Affordable Care Act, which has helped millions of people secure health insurance coverage. Barrett also fought efforts to ensure that all women have access to contraceptives.”

He added: “She disagrees with ‘stare decisis’ — the idea that cases like Roe v Wade are settled law in the courts — and instead has said she wants ‘space’ for ‘reargument’.

Commentators pointed out Ms Barrett previously appeared to defend Roe v Wade. In 2013, the wrote that she thought the law would not be overturned, though others have said she was reflecting on the fact that it was settled law, not that she supported it.

The resignation of Mr Kennedy has triggered off a considerable, multi-million dollar lobbying campaign, with liberals and conservatives seeking to influence both Mr Trump, and the senators who must confirm his selection.

Pro-abortion rights groups have already targeted moderate Republican senator Susan Collins of Maine. Over the weekend, she told CNN she would not support a nominee who has demonstrated hostility to Roe v Wade “because that would mean to me that their judicial philosophy did not include a respect for established decisions, established law”.

Other candidates Mr Trump is believed to have spoken to include federal appeals court judges Brett Kavanaugh, Raymond Kethledge and Amul Thapar.

He is also believed to have spoken to Republican sector Mike Lee of Utah, who is not regarded as a top contender but has been pushed by key conservatives. He also had a conversation with Thomas Hardiman, who served with Mr Trump's sister on the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

Another candidate considered by many as a leading contender is Joan Larsen, who serves on the federal appeals court in Cincinnati, according to the Associated Press.

Politico pointed out, the last woman nominated to the court by a Republican president was Harriet Miers, in 2005. She withdrew herself from the process amid a backlash from conservatives. Sandra O’Connor, selected by Ronald Reagan in 1981, was the first and only woman nominated by a Republican president to be confirmed.

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