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Chicago Judge Amy Barrett, passed over for Supreme Court, will stay in spotlight

Amy Coney Barrett, the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals judge who was under consideration for a Supreme Court seat, speaks during the University of Notre Dame's law school commencement ceremony in May. | Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via AP

Appellate Judge Amy Coney Barrett will not be ascending to the U.S. Supreme Court.

At least, not yet.

But President Donald Trump’s most recent Supreme Court sweepstakes, won by Brett Kavanaugh, has suddenly given her the highest profile of any jurist on the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, at least outside legal circles. She joined the court only last fall.

Now, after nearly two weeks in a national spotlight casting her as a favorite of social conservatives — and making Trump’s final four list — it’s possible Barrett’s upcoming appearances on the 27th floor of Chicago’s federal courthouse could draw curious onlookers and reporters.

And her opinions — she’s written only a handful so far — will likely be read even more closely. After all, her name could come up again if Trump gets another chance to put his stamp on the court. And that seems highly likely given the ages of the other sitting members, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, and Stephen Breyer, 79.

For example, the full appellate court is expected to reconsider a ruling in an ongoing civil case between the city of Chicago and Attorney General Jeff Sessions over so-called sanctuary city policies. Though arguments, set for September, are expected to center only around the scope of a nationwide injunction that has since been limited to Chicago, any questions or commentary by Barrett may be of particular interest.

The 7th Circuit covers Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. Barrett holds an Indiana “seat.” She lives there with her husband — a federal prosecutor for the Northern District of Indiana — and their seven children. Two of their children are adopted from Haiti and a third, their youngest, has special needs.

Barrett, 46, spent most of her career as a law professor at Notre Dame Law School in Indiana. She once clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, but her judicial career didn’t begin until Trump nominated her for the 7th Circuit in May 2017.

She was raised in Louisiana, graduated Rhodes College in 1994 and Notre Dame Law School in 1997.


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Though the last few weeks have given her new stature, Barrett had already gained some notoriety, especially after a contentious confirmation process last year. She catapulted into Trump’s consideration because she appeared on a list of 25 potential candidates put together by the conservative Federalist Society, an influential group whose leader is an informal adviser to Trump.

When asked during her hearing how judges should weigh their faith against the law, Barrett said, “It’s never appropriate for a judge to impose that judge’s personal convictions, whether they derive from faith or anywhere else, on the law.”

In the hearing’s most memorable moment, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, told Barrett, a Catholic, that, “dogma lives loudly within you.”

A Notre Dame university publication has cited Barrett’s belief that “life begins at conception.” The same article also quotes Barrett saying it is “very unlikely” the court would ever overturn Roe v. Wade’s core protection of abortion rights.

In a 2013 Texas Law Review article, Barrett wrote about “superprecedents,” — “cases that no justice would overrule.” Barrett’s list of examples “on most hit lists” included Marbury v. Madison and Brown v. Board of Education, but not Roe v. Wade.

In a footnote, she explained that scholars “do not put Roe on the superprecedent list.”

The public controversy over that case, she said, “has never abated.”