SOUTH BEND, Ind. — South Bend is taking center stage in the eyes of the political world once again, as the front-runner for the vacant U.S. Supreme Court seat lives just minutes from the University of Notre Dame’s campus.
At the home of Federal Judge Amy Coney Barret, the curtains were drawn Wednesday and she has said she will not comment as the president is weighing nominees.
Her friends and former colleagues, however, are happy to weigh in. University of Notre Dame Law School Professor Paolo Carozza first met Amy Coney Barrett 25 years ago, when he was a young professor and she was a Notre Dame student. Now they’re colleagues at the law school.
“We’ve known her and admire her and have great affection for her for a long time,” Carozza said. “There’s a great hope really, and a widespread perception that she would be a terrific justice if she were appointed.”
Barrett is seen as a top candidate to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Born in New Orleans, the 48-year-old Barrett lives in South Bend with her husband and seven children.
“A mother of seven, including two of them who have been adopted of course, and so a biracial family and also a child with special needs. Those things deepen her humanity,” Carozza said.
She earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Rhodes College in Tennessee in 1994, then in 1997 she graduated from Notre Dame Law School.
She served as a clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia, then went into private practice in Washington, DC before returning to Notre Dame as a professor. In 2017, President Donald Trump appointed her as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals’ 7th circuit in Chicago.
“A brilliant mind, as a jurist, razor sharp ability to integrate all sorts of things and really take it to the heart of the matter,” Carozza said. “Everybody who has ever worked with her has seen that.”
Just six weeks from the presidential election, Democatic leaders oppose the appointment of a new justice on both political and policy grounds, arguing the voters should cast their ballots first.
Second, they say the appointment of a conservative to replace the liberal stalwart could shift the balance of the court and perhaps open the door to reversals on health care, LGBTQ+, and abortion laws.
“To push through the vacancy of the Trump administration, this really is an assault on all of those things: history, tradition rules and mutual respect of the United States Senate,” said U.S. Sen Dick Durbin (D-Illinois).
Like her mentor Justice Scalia, Barrett takes a “strict constructionist” view of the constitution, viewing the role of the court as one of restraint instead of expansion.
“She would bring a perspective that’s different from Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who she’d be succeeding in that role, how that plays out on specific issues I think it’s very hard to say,” Carozza said.
In a one-on-one interview with WGN America’s Joe Donlon, the president dropped hints about the pick Monday.
“We’ll be appointing a woman, I’ll be announcing it on Saturday… I haven’t made a final decision, but have a pretty good idea,” Trump said.
The president had previously said of Barrett he was, “saving her for Ginsburg’s seat.”
Among Barrett’s friends there is deep concern that nomination hearings will turn into a circus and may center on her deeply held religious beliefs, something she addressed in her hearing to be appointed to the federal bench.
“In the rare circumstance that might ever arise, I would recuse… I would never impose my own personal convictions on the law,” Barrett said.
Under the golden dome, Notre Dame students could not be interviewed because of COVID-19 restrictions, but this time of year campus would typically be buzzing about a big Saturday football game. This Saturday the focus will be politics, not pigskin.
“I have to think a lot of people will still be tuned to their televisions – but it won’t be for the football game this time, it’ll be to see what happens with regard to the nomination,” Carozza said.
Barrett reportedly met with President Trump at the White House earlier this week, but was seen by neighbors leaving for work in her minivan Wednesday morning.