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Notre Dame professors share reactions to Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination in viral letters

| Friday, October 16, 2020

Since President Donald Trump nominated Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court on Sept. 26, the political climate around her selection has been contentious and controversial. Within the Notre Dame community, many faculty members have spoken out regarding Barrett’s nomination. 

Eighty-eight Notre Dame professors signed an open letter asking Barrett to postpone her confirmation to the court until after the election. 

We ask that you honor the democratic process and insist the hearings be put on hold until after the voters have made their choice,” the letter said. “Following the election, your nomination would proceed, or not, in accordance with the wishes of the winning candidate.”

John Duffy, an English professor at the University who originally wrote the letter, said his intention in writing it was not to disrespect Barrett, but simply to urge her to consider postponing her nomination until after the presidential election Nov. 3. 

“I had heard so much about what a wonderful person Amy Coney Barrett is, I’ve heard nothing but good things about her,” Duffy said. “So I thought I would write her a letter and suggest that maybe she take the extraordinary step of calling for a halt to the nomination process until after the election was done, and then to be guided by the results of the election. That’s an incredibly difficult thing to ask of any person. I recognize that, you know, a nomination to the Supreme Court is the honor of a lifetime. And it’s very presumptuous of me to have us to ask such a thing, but we felt it was necessary.”

Duffy said he believes the best thing for the United States at this point is to postpone Barrett’s nomination. However, he said the letter is not questioning Barrett’s qualification or experience for the court, but rather the circumstances surrounding her candidacy. 

“I want to make it clear, we have not asked her to withdraw,” Duffy said. “We have not taken issue with any of her judicial philosophy. We’ve not been critical of her in any way at all. This is not a letter about her qualifications. It’s not a letter about her ideology. It’s not a liberal about her religious beliefs. It’s none of those things. It’s really more about, what does the country need right now? What is best for the country?”

Dr. Catherine Bolten, an anthropology professor at the University and signatory of the letter, said the letter allowed for Notre Dame faculty to show that the public image of any given institution is not necessarily representative of the community as a whole.

“Obviously, there are a diversity of views in every institution, but it’s not always the case that that diversity is highlighted or recognized,” she said. “In this case, you know, it may be that Amy Coney Barrett was a professor at Notre Dame Law School, but that does not mean that she represents the views and values of everyone in this institution.”

Bolten said that by signing, she wanted to urge Barrett to honor former Justice Ginsburg’s last wish that her seat not be replaced until after the election. 

“We wanted to highlight …  the importance of not letting ambition overtake integrity, and that accepting a nomination immediately upon the death of a justice whose dying wish was that this nomination be held until after the election, combined with the fact that Judge Barrett herself had said on prior occasions that no new Supreme Court justices should be nominated in election years, let alone a month before an election that she needed reminding that in this moment, perhaps her elation at being nominated overtook her good judgment,” Bolten said. 

However, some Notre Dame faculty members have publicly stated their support of Barrett’s nomination. Nearly two dozen tenured Notre Dame law professors signed a letter encouraging the Senate Judiciary Committee to confirm Barrett to the court. 

“A number of us disagree with the President on many things, and some of us object to the timing of the confirmation process,” the letter said. “But we all agree that, given her background and qualifications, Judge Amy Barrett would serve with honor and distinction on the Supreme Court of the United States.”

Notre Dame law professor Paolo Carozza, who signed the letter, said it was a great honor to have a member of the Law School appointed to the Supreme Court. 

“We’re excited and proud — almost everybody in the building is — about someone who isn’t only one of our students and colleagues, but someone who has been, you know, in her years here universally admired and loved and respected, for what she does for her mind for her character.”

Carozza, who attended the Rose Garden ceremony, said he has a close personal and working relationship with Barrett, and believes strongly in her capability to serve on the court.

“I know her really well and just think the world of her in terms of her fundamental kindness and decency as a person,” he said. 

In response to the letter from 88 faculty members who asked Barrett to postpone her confirmation, Carozza said he believed the letter “presumes that her being nominated by this president at this time, will inevitably taint and diminish her candidacy.”

“I don’t agree that it has any bearing on how she will serve as a judge, how well she will serve the rule of law,” Carozza said. “I think the letter is unfortunate, because it’s really based on, I think, a fundamental misunderstanding of her relationship to the president and his party.”

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About Claire Rafford

Claire is a senior from Tempe, Arizona majoring in English and minoring in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy and Business-Economics. She peaked when her team won the Battle of the Books state championship in 2011.

Contact Claire