Amy Coney Barrett: Meet Donald Trump's pick for the Supreme Court

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Amy Coney Barrett - Alex Brandon/AP
Amy Coney Barrett - Alex Brandon/AP

It was 2017 and Amy Coney Barrett, having been nominated by Donald Trump, was undergoing a Senate hearing to be confirmed as an appellate court judge.

"When you read your speeches the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you..." mused Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat senator from California. "And that's of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for, for years, in this country."

Ms Barrett looked taken aback. "If you're asking whether I take my Catholic faith seriously, I do," she responded firmly. She added: "My religious belief would not bear on the discharge of my duties as a judge."

Ms Feinstein was accused of anti-Catholic bigotry, and people started printing the phrase "the dogma lives loudly within you" on T-shirts and mugs.

But the question of whether Ms Barrett's personal opinions will affect her decisions on the Supreme Court, particularly on abortion, remains a matter of national debate.

Both supporters and opponents of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling legalising abortion, believe its future is now on the line.

To anti-abortion activists Ms Barrett, who has publicly declared her belief that life begins at conception, has become a heroine.

Having undergone a contentious Senate confirmation hearing, Ms Barrett, 48, has become the youngest of the nine Supreme Court justices and her influence could be felt for decades.

She is a mother of seven children under 20, including one with Down syndrome, and two adopted from Haiti.

Born in New Orleans, her father was a lawyer for Shell Oil. After St Mary's Dominican High School for girls, she graduated from law college at Notre Dame, the Catholic university.

She went on to clerk for Antonin Scalia, the conservative Supreme Court justice who died in 2016. She was said to have been his favourite clerk, and was nicknamed "The Conenator" for her ability to destroy weak legal arguments.

Later, she returned to Notre Dame for 15 years as a professor, marrying Jesse Barrett, a former prosecutor.

The couple live near the university in South Bend, Indiana, where former Democrat presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg was, until recently, the mayor.

Ms Barrett does CrossFit-style exercise and while in South Bend she regularly attended Notre Dame's American football games, and commuted nearly two hours to work in Chicago where the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals is based.

But the issue that has attracted most attention is the claim about her supposed membership, which she has never confirmed, of a religious group called People of Praise.

The group, which was formed in South Bend in 1971, now has about 1,700 members in 22 cities in the US, Canada and the Caribbean.

According to its website the movement, which is non-denominational, began "when students and faculty at the University of Notre Dame began to experience a renewal of Christian enthusiasm and fervour."

Its most devoted members make a lifelong commitment to the group, known as a covenant.

Until 2018, it used the term "handmaid" for its female leaders.

The decision to change the moniker "handmaids" was made following a popular TV series based on "The Handmaid’s Tale," the 1985 book by Margaret Atwood which depicts a dystopian future in which women are subjugated.

A spokesman for the group said: "Recognising that the meaning of this term has shifted dramatically in our culture in recent years, we no longer use the term handmaid."

The group has also emphasised that women are not considered subservient and that many hold leadership roles, including directing schools and ministries.

Although Ms Barrett and her husband describe their marriage as a partnership, it is likely she has been shaped by the community. 

In this page from the May 2006 issue of Vine and Branches produced by People of Praise, Amy Coney Barrett is seen at left in the photo at a People of Praise Leaders' Conference for Women in 2006 - People of Praise 
In this page from the May 2006 issue of Vine and Branches produced by People of Praise, Amy Coney Barrett is seen at left in the photo at a People of Praise Leaders' Conference for Women in 2006 - People of Praise

To her critics, she represents everything that her predecessor Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not. 

Ms Barrett's track record in court highlights a broad support for the Second Amendment, as well as an expansion of the role of religion in public life. 

Gun control groups have voiced "grave concerns" over her record and what it could mean for the future. 

In 2019 the Seventh Circuit case, Kanter v Barr, saw Ms Barrett conclude that only felons convicted of dangerous crimes should have their right to bear arms removed.

"Neither the convention proposals nor historical practice supports a legislative power to categorically disarm felons because of their status as felons," she wrote. 

This broke a trend set by scores of federal judges to uphold a blanket ban for all those convicted, after balancing gun rights against concern for public safety.

Gun control groups worry that, as a Supreme Court Justice, Ms Barrett could provide Mr Trump with a fourth vote to agree to hear more gun cases, or even a fifth vote to ease some gun restrictions. 

The National Rifle Association, a gun advocacy organisation, celebrated the confirmation of Ms Barrett. 

“On behalf of our millions of members, we offer congratulations to all who participated in the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett as a Justice of the United States Supreme Court,” said Jason Ouimet, executive director. “She promises to serve our nation with distinction and honor.”

Then, largely overshadowed by her views on religion and abortion, is her approach to immigration.

Human rights organisations describe Ms Barrett's years-long record of voting against immigrants as "deeply concerning".

As a federal court judge, she proved to be an obstacle to the advancement of immigrant rights on numerous occasions. 

In all but one of the 25 immigration cases Ms Barrett heard during her time on the Seventh Circuit, she affirmed or declined to review decisions that went against asylum seekers or other immigrants, claims Human Rights First

Ms Barrett has also sided with the Trump administration on his key immigration policies, backing an approach that imposes a wealth test on the millions of immigrants arriving in the US annually. 

She laid out in a 40-page dissent why the US had the right to block people deemed likely to depend on public assistance, even if they had claimed it in the past. 

In 2019 Judge Barrett wrote a unanimous three-judge panel decision, making it easier for men accused to have committed sexual assaults on college campuses to challenge the proceedings against them.

“The case against him boiled down to a 'he said/she said,'" Ms Barrett said as she presided over a case involving allegations by a female student that her boyfriend had assaulted her. 

Ms Barrett added that it was “plausible” the Purdue University investigation panel “chose to believe Jane because she is a woman and to disbelieve John because he is a man.” 

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