I've known Amy Coney Barrett for over 20 years. Her intellect and heart are unrivaled.
Yes, she is brilliant. And, yes, she is a principled, careful judge. But she also is one of the most generous people whom I have ever met.
I first met Amy Coney at a Washington, D.C., coffee shop in the spring of 1998. A mutual friend had connected us because we were about to begin clerking together on the Supreme Court (me for Justice Clarence Thomas, her for Justice Antonin Scalia). I don’t remember the details, but I do remember that I walked away thinking I had just met a remarkable woman.
We could not have known then that over the next 22 years, our lives would become completely intertwined: That, three years later, she would become my colleague at Notre Dame Law School, that she and her husband would move around the corner from us in South Bend, Indiana, and that we would raise our children together. We could not have known that, in a sense, we would grow up together — as lawyers, teachers, scholars, mothers, friends. And we certainly could not have imagined that, 22 years later, she would be nominated to serve on the United States Supreme Court.
But looking back, everything has changed, except Amy Coney Barrett. The very same qualities that struck me as remarkable on that spring afternoon are the qualities that make her an exceptional judge, award-winning teacher, generous colleague, loyal friend and loving mother. And the obvious pick to serve on the Supreme Court. She is brilliant, to be sure, but also humble, generous, loving, kind. She accepts each new challenge with grace and gives all she has to give (and sometimes it seems more) to all she is called to do. She will bring all those qualities to the Supreme Court, and our nation will be blessed by her years of service as Justice Barrett.
Credentials second to none
As Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman, who clerked with us and disagrees with much of her judicial philosophy, recently observed, she stood out as one of the two finest legal minds among the almost 40 clerks. He concludes, “I’m going to be confident that Barrett is going to be a good justice, maybe even a great one — even if I disagree with her all the way.”
Since joining the faculty at Notre Dame, she has made her mark as a leading constitutional law scholar and one of our best, and most challenging, teachers. Students quickly learn to be prepared to answer her tough questions about subjects ranging from the evidentiary issues in the movie “My Cousin Vinny” to the complexities of statutory interpretation. They all are in awe of her, which is, honestly, more than a little humbling for the rest of us professors.
And, in the three years since her appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, the rigorous, incisive and careful approach she brought to her scholarship and teaching has been reflected in over 100 judicial opinions that demonstrate her steadfast fidelity to the rule of law.
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Yes, she is brilliant. And, yes, she is a principled, careful judge, admired legal scholar and amazing teacher. Her respect among her colleagues and students is reflected in the fact that she has been elected professor of the year three times by the law school’s graduating class and in letters of support for her nomination to the 7th Circuit, including ones signed by all of her full-time faculty colleagues at Notre Dame, all of her fellow Supreme Court clerks, hundreds of former students and dozens of prominent law professors from around the country.
A heart that overflows
But she also is one of the most generous people I have ever met. The Barrett home is a wellspring of hospitality. It is the kind of place where families gather to share life, where the kids are served hot dogs on a backyard picnic table while the parents are treated to Judge Barrett’s amazing crawfish etouffee. It is where she has prepared countless meals for families welcoming new babies or recovering from surgeries, comforted friends who know that they can always turn to her for support in times of crisis, and served as a sounding board for personal challenges both large (career advice) and small (potty-training advice).
Many commentators marvel that Barrett is able to do all that she does, and do it so well, while raising seven amazing kids. What’s her secret? Is she superhuman? Does she really get up at 5 a.m. to do CrossFit? (Yes.) But those of us who know her as a friend, and that is a long list, know the answers, because she models them for us every day in all she does. As her husband, Jesse, observed at her 7th Circuit investiture: “You can’t outwork Amy”; “you can’t out-friend Amy”; “you can’t out-love Amy.”
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Barrett’s empathy, generosity and loving kindness have touched the lives of hundreds of law students. One recently recounted that when she came to Notre Dame, the accessibility software she needed to succeed as a blind student hadn’t arrived in time. She turned to then-professor Barrett for advice. “Laura,” she responded, “this is not your problem anymore, it’s mine.” Barrett not only resolved the issue, but also subsequently became and remains one of the student’s most important mentors. Laura Wolk went on to be the first blind woman to clerk on the Supreme Court.
There are dozens of young people like Laura, whose lives were transformed by their relationship with Judge Barrett as a mentor. Thousands more will undoubtedly be inspired by her in years to come.
I am elated that the president chose my friend and colleague as his nominee. She will serve our nation with distinction. And while I will miss her, I look forward to teaching the next generation of law students Justice Barrett’s opinions — and telling them about the brilliant, generous, kind and loving person who wrote them.
Nicole Garnett is the John P. Murphy Foundation professor of law at University of Notre Dame.