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Amy Coney Barrett Is the Least Experienced Supreme Court Nominee in 30 years

4 303 1883
23.10.2020

Mother Jones illustration; Getty; Zuma/Images from left: Win McNamee/Zuma, Michael Reynolds/CNP/Zuma; Karen Bleier/Getty, Getty

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett took some heat from Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) during her confirmation hearing last week, when he pressed her on her failure to turn over additional relevant documents to the committee, including an anti-abortion newspaper ad she’d signed in 2006. Barrett responded that she had submitted 30 years’ worth of material to the committee, and that she had simply missed the 15-year-old ad. “I produced 1,800 pages of material,” she insisted, implying that this submission was voluminous.

In the world of Supreme Court nominees, however, 1,800 pages of documents barely registers as a footnote. Chief Justice John Roberts rustled up 75,000 pages of records for his 2005 confirmation hearing—just from his time serving in Republican administrations. The Senate reviewed about 170,000 pages of records before confirming Justice Elena Kagan and 180,000 for Justice Neil Gorsuch. No one even comes close to the document dump from Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The Senate Judiciary Committee waded through more than 1 million records during his 2018 confirmation fight, including a supplemental submission of 42,000 the night before his hearing started.

Page counts, of course, are not a perfect proxy for experience, but the relative paucity of Barrett’s is an indication of just how circumscribed her legal experience has been compared with virtually all of her predecessors—and even one nominee who was ultimately denied the position. The permanent record of the 48-year-old former Notre Dame law school professor is in direct proportion with her resume, which is strikingly thin for someone nominated to a lifetime position on the Supreme Court. By almost any objective measure, Barrett is the most inexperienced person nominated to the Supreme Court since 1991, when President George H.W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas, then just 43, to replace the legendary Thurgood Marshall.

Barrett’s limited CV did have an upside: It’s one reason that Republicans have been able to rush her confirmation hearings and vote on her nomination, which the Judiciary Committee did Thursday without a single Democrat in the room. (The full Senate will vote on it Monday.) There’s simply not that much in her record to review.

But Barrett’s insular professional history raises some pertinent questions about her nomination that go beyond how she might rule on hot-button social issues: How did a professor from a second-tier law school with such a shallow reservoir of experience manage to leapfrog to the top of the list of potential Republican Supreme Court nominees? And why were Republicans, who have spent decades obstructing legislation that would help women advance in the workplace, so eager to promote this particular under-credentialed, female candidate?

“How did she go from really good law professor to the short list?” asks Angie Maxwell, a political science professor at the University of Arkansas who studies conservative politics and feminism. “That’s not from being a law professor. That’s from partisan networks and groups she worked with, and that’s what’s concerning.”

Barrett has spent virtually all of her professional life in academia. Until President Trump nominated her to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017, she had never been a judge, never worked in the government as a prosecutor, defense lawyer, solicitor general, or attorney general, or served as counsel to any legislative body—the usual professional channels that Supreme Court nominees tend to hail from. A graduate of Notre Dame law school, Barrett has almost no experience practicing law whatsoever—a hole in her resume so glaring that during her 7th Circuit confirmation hearing in 2017, Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee were dismayed that she couldn’t recall more than three cases she’d worked on during her brief two years in private practice. Nominees are asked to provide details on 10.

Barrett has never tried a case to verdict or argued an appeal in any court, nor has she ever performed any notable pro bono work, even during law school. The ABA’s code of professional responsibility says lawyers should aspire to provide 50 hours a year of free legal services, with an emphasis on serving the poor in recognition of the fact that “only lawyers have the special skills and knowledge needed to secure access to justice for low-income people.” Chief Justice John Roberts famously met some of these requirements by representing a mass murderer on Florida’s death row.

In response to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s questions about her pro bono work, Barrett said she probably helped with such cases during her two years in private practice, but she couldn’t recall any details. Instead, she described her family’s participation in Angel Tree drives and volunteer work at a local soup kitchen—worthy projects undertaken........

© Mother Jones


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