In more than two centuries, Louisiana has had only one judge who made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. So President Donald Trump’s nomination of New Orleans native Amy Coney Barrett might, in calmer times, have been a cause for celebration for all of us.
That seems unlikely to happen this case, but before we get to the upcoming fracas over who should get to nominate the 115th Supreme Court justice, we should at least take a moment to celebrate Judge Barrett and her remarkable legal career.
Barrett was raised in Metairie, the first of seven children and the daughter of a lawyer who worked for Shell. She attended Dominican, graduated from Rhodes College and was executive editor of the law review at Notre Dame. She earned a spot as a clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia, the court’s leading conservative intellect. In a world dominated by elite Eastern law schools, she would be the first non-Ivy-Leaguer to join the court in a generation.
She taught law at Notre Dame and was the professor of the year three times before President Trump nominated her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago. She was confirmed with 55 Senate votes, including three Democrats, and has served on the court for nearly three years.
Like her mother, Judge Barrett raised a large family. She and her husband have seven children, including two adopted from Haiti.
All of this will probably get lost in the fight over the process that led to her nomination.
Approval of Supreme Court nominees was once a cordial process, and Democrats and Republicans will argue about where all that broke down. Was it with the attacks on the judicial philosophy of Robert Bork, the showdown between Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill, the elimination of the filibuster for some judicial nominees, the refusal to hold hearings on President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland?
When Senate Republicans in 2016 declined to consider Garland, we argued in these pages that it was a terrible precedent. We still think so, because we believe judges who are qualified should get a public hearing and then an up-or-down vote.
Now, breaking the precedent less than two months before an election is also bad public policy and will be unfair to Judge Barrett. Moreover, if Democrats win the presidency and Congress in November, they will face pressure to expand the court, also a terrible idea. Where would it all end?
It’s a shame that all of this will overshadow the qualifications of a remarkable woman and taint what should be a joyful moment for Louisiana and a large, proud family from Metairie.