How Amy Coney Barrett Describes Her Legal Career

Law360 (September 30, 2020, 8:03 PM EDT) -- Seventh Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett has given a first-person account of her legal career in a 65-page Senate questionnaire that sets the stage for her U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

The Judiciary Committee released Judge Barrett's updated questionnaire late Tuesday ahead of hearings set to start Oct. 12 as Republicans seek the fastest high court confirmation in four decades.

In response to a question about the selection process, the nominee revealed that President Donald Trump offered her the job Monday, Sept. 21 — three days after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and five days before Trump ended speculation and announced his choice.

The White House counsel and chief of staff had called her the day after Justice Ginsburg's death and called again the following day, when she also got a call from Trump himself. When she met with Trump on Monday, she said, "The president offered me the nomination on that day, and I accepted."

The bulk of the questionnaire's standard two dozen queries focus on Judge Barrett's education, work and personal life.

The 48-year-old New Orleans native earned her bachelor's degree, magna cum laude, from Rhodes College and went straight to Notre Dame Law School on a full-tuition scholarship, graduating first in her class in 1997.

Her legal career began with back-to-back clerkships for two conservative heavyweights, D.C. Circuit Judge Laurence H. Silberman and Justice Antonin Scalia. Judge Barrett described the experience in a February podcast interview with the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.

"I think I've always been tough. Judge Silberman definitely made me tougher," Judge Barrett said. "I started in July after having graduated in May, so I was definitely pretty green, and clerking for a formidable judge who was as smart as Judge Silberman really taught me a lot."

Even after clerking at the appeals court often called the second-highest court in the land, she said the Supreme Court experience was "trial by fire." In the summer, clerks started writing memos about certiorari petitions that were distributed to eight justices participating in the "cert pool."

"The way Justice Scalia ran his chambers is we all had to be prepared to discuss all the cases. So we would have a conference before argument where the four of us [clerks] would be in his office, and then you're just going toe-to-toe," she said on the podcast. "He didn't want you to agree with him. He wanted you to say what you thought."

The nominee recalled the high court's cafeteria as "not a place that I choose for a date night." If confirmed, she would help run that public eatery, since the most junior justice traditionally sits on an oversight committee. Justice Brett Kavanaugh made a mark by adding pizza to the menu.

After her clerkships, Judge Barrett spent about two years as a litigation associate with Miller Cassidy Larroca & Lewin LLP, which merged with Baker Botts LLP during her time there.

"I worked on cases in both trial and appellate courts, and while the bulk of my practice was civil, I did work on one criminal appeal," the judge said in her questionnaire. "I wrote briefs, motions, and research memoranda. I conducted depositions and second-chaired a jury trial."

The judge represented two people convicted of defrauding federal agencies; in 2000, the Second Circuit affirmed the convictions in U.S. v. Berger .

She helped an Iranian dissident group convince the D.C. Circuit to order a review of their "foreign terrorist organization" designation in National Council of Resistance of Iran v. U.S. Department of State

After the 2000 presidential election went to the courts, Judge Barrett "provided research and briefing assistance" for Republican counsel in Bush v. Gore

"Baker Botts LLP represented George W. Bush, and I worked on the case on location in Florida for about a week at the outset of the litigation," she said. "I worked with Stuart Levey, a partner at the firm, while the case was in Florida courts. I did not continue working on the case after my return to Washington."

Judge Barrett's academic career began in 2001 as an adjunct professor and then a fellow at the George Washington University School of Law. The next year, she returned to Notre Dame as a full professor.

"My primary legal activities were teaching law students and researching and writing about the law," she said in the questionnaire. "My scholarship focused primarily on constitutional interpretation, statutory interpretation and the power conferred upon federal courts by Article III."

Over 15 years, Judge Barrett regularly taught civil procedure, constitutional law, evidence and statutory interpretation.

"I love teaching civil procedure," she said on the podcast. "That is a different challenge. First-year, first-semester students don't always understand why civil procedure is so important when it seems so boring."

From 2010 to 2016, Judge Barrett served on the federal judiciary's Advisory Committee on Rules of Appellate Procedure, and she won the law school's Distinguished Professor of the Year award in 2006, 2016 and 2018.

Judge Barrett gave many lectures and speeches and participated in panels whose topics ranged from Justice Scalia's jurisprudence to the constitutionality of the filibuster. Her media appearances addressed court fights over the Affordable Care Act and previous Supreme Court vacancies.

She was a frequent speaker for chapters of the right-leaning Federalist Society, where she had two stints as a member. Although she left the group when she took the bench in 2017, her financial disclosure forms indicate the group funded 10 trips in 2018 and 2019.

From 2010 to 2016, she belonged to University Faculty for Life, a group opposed to abortion that has submitted amicus briefs to the high court.

She also participated in prosaic aspects of academic life, serving on the university-wide Parking Committee in 2016 and 2017.

Judge Barrett said on the podcast that being a professor prepared her for the bench since both focus on careful reading and writing with mentorship on the side, but she noted a major distinction.

"As a law professor, I sometimes wondered whether anyone read or cared about any of the articles that I published in law reviews," she said. "But when I write a judicial opinion, I know that there are at least two people, the litigants, who will care very much what I write. And I'm keenly aware that I'm exercising the judicial power of the United States, and it's a heavy responsibility and that's quite different."

--Editing by Jay Jackson Jr.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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