New Court Shortlist Adds More Female Judicial Role Models

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The Supreme Court will be a key factor for 64% of voters this November. President Trump just announced new additions to his list of potential candidates for the high court. After some disappointing decisions at the end of the court’s last term, conservatives are keenly aware that this year’s election will be decisive for the Supreme Court. And they — we — are thrilled with this revised list of possible nominees. 

The updated list is a carefully vetted roster of judicial rock stars, many of them women. Court watchers predict that the female candidates will be front and center if a vacancy occurs, especially if created by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s retirement. 

That’s great news for conservative women like me. It’s even better news for girls like my three daughters. They might finally have a role model on the highest court in the land. 

The first female justice on the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor, was a Reagan appointee, but her judicial philosophy turned out to be anything but conservative. Among other disappointments, O’Connor read a right to abortion into the Constitution as a necessity for women to achieve economic and social equality. She even voted in 2000 to strike down a state ban on late-term partial-birth abortion.  

The women on the president’s current list have an entirely different outlook on the Constitution. All are highly respected judges and lawyers who have demonstrated a commitment to the Constitution’s original meaning and text. Many also represent a broader idea of who might make a great justice. They transcend the narrow central casting tropes. All were educated at top-notch law schools (but not necessarily Ivy League ones, those impeccably elite but doctrinally progressive institutions). A judge from “Middle America” might be refreshingly uninterested in the approval of the proverbial Georgetown cocktail party crowd. 

Some excellent additions to the list – 11th Circuit Judge Barbara Lagoa, Judge Allison Jones Rushing of the Fourth Circuit, and former Deputy White House Counsel Kate Todd – are new to the national stage. One woman who was previously on the shortlist stands out for her staying power. She is a known quantity and has already been tested in the glare of the national spotlight. She’s also already a hero in Middle America: Seventh Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett.  

Barrett is known for her brilliance, her rock-solid judicial record, her vision of human dignity and her inspirational persona. She clerked for the late Justice Antonin Scalia and was reportedly a Scalia favorite. Judge Barrett talks about how formative it was to be mentored by him: “Nothing will hone your skill in making oral legal arguments more than going toe to toe with Justice Scalia.” Barrett would help solidify the Scalia legacy.  

Her confirmation hearings for the Seventh Circuit sparked fireworks when Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Richard Durbin, ignoring the constitutional prohibition on any religious test for office, went on anti-Catholic diatribes. Barrett displayed grace under fire. She successfully met their condescension and bigotry with her steely strength and feminine genius. The attacks backfired, and Judge Barrett instantly became a heroine to conservative women across the country.  

Barrett’s resume reflects her choices as a lawyer who has balanced a brilliant legal career with the joys and challenges of motherhood.  After her Supreme Court clerkship and some time at prestigious Washington, D.C., law firms, she chose a professorship at the University of Notre Dame and a life raising her family in the Midwest. 

At Notre Dame, where she continues to teach in addition to sitting on the bench, Barrett is universally admired for her sharp legal mind, collegiality, and generosity in mentoring students. Every member of the faculty – representing all political stripes – supported her nomination to the Seventh Circuit, writing in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee: “She is a brilliant teacher and scholar, and a warm and generous colleague. She possesses in abundance all of the other qualities that shape extraordinary jurists: discipline, intellect, wisdom, impeccable temperament, and above all, fundamental decency and humanity.” 

In addition, all of Barrett’s fellow Supreme Court clerks – including those who clerked for liberal justices — backed her nomination. “Professor Barrett is a woman of remarkable intellect and character,” they wrote in unanimity. “She is eminently qualified for the job.” 

Amy Coney Barrett stands out on the list of Supreme Court possibilities as a committed originalist with guts — tested guts. Judge Barrett is also confirmable; Democrats Tim Kaine, Joe Manchin, and Joe Donnelly voted for her Circuit Court nomination. But new additions to the list are both welcome and exciting. As Justice Ginsburg says, it is “good for the public to see that women come in all sizes and shapes, just as men do, and they don’t necessarily look alike or think alike.”

Maureen Ferguson is a senior fellow for The Catholic Association and co-host of The Catholic Association’s podcast, “Conversations with Consequences.”

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