Amy Coney Barrett a Perfect Choice for Half of America

Judge Barret could be an intellectual leader on the Supreme Court

September 26, 2020 • Commentary
This article appeared on CNN​.com on September 26, 2020.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett has the potential not simply to be another originalist voice, or a vote for conservative outcomes, but to be an intellectual leader on the Supreme Court. She has excelled at all stages of her career, including winning teaching awards and mentoring students, and has done so while raising a beautiful family and being universally liked and respected. We saw some of that grace and poise in her Rose Garden remarks, and those kind of “soft skills” shouldn’t be underestimated in terms of a justice’s influence. Justice Byron White used to say that each new justice makes for a new court, and it’s this internal dynamic that a Justice Barrett could affect as much the court’s jurisprudence.

But we don’t have to guess at Barrett’s jurisprudence either. She has a long paper trail of academic and judicial writings, which display a thoughtful and scholarly approach to both legal substance and the prudential aspects of judging. On legal theory she’s very much like her own mentor, Justice Antonin Scalia, in her originalism and textualism, applying constitutional and statutory provisions according to their public meaning at enactment instead of seeing that meaning change over time or trying to divine a legislative purpose. When it comes to the doctrine of stare decisis, the idea that sometimes erroneous precedents should be left untouched because correcting them would cost more in societal disruption than getting them right would benefit, she’s somewhere between Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas — who rarely if ever lets legal dogs lie.

Barrett has also shown a willingness to hold government officials’ feet to the constitutional fire, although one law review article suggests that she’s not willing to go as far as, say, Justice Neil Gorsuch in questioning the justifications for economic regulations. But regardless, if Barrett is confirmed, John Roberts’ short stint as the median justice will end, and we can expect a Supreme Court jurisprudence that, like it or not, will be more principled.

About the Author
Ilya Shapiro

Ilya Shapiro is the director of the Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute and publisher of the Cato Supreme Court Review.