President Donald Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett on Saturday to serve on the United States Supreme Court. We all have had the privilege of being Judge Barrett’s students. While we hold a variety of views regarding how best to interpret statutes and the Constitution, we all agree on this: The nation could not ask for a more qualified candidate than the professor we have come to know and revere.
Barrett is the paragon of a professor. She subjects all her students’ ideas, no matter what interpretive principles they espouse, to rigorous scrutiny. In this way, she has taught us all to think more critically and engage more deeply with the strengths and weaknesses of our own burgeoning legal philosophies.
When one of us suggested that judges should rely on dictionary definitions to interpret statutory text, a common tool of textualist interpretation, Barrett queried why we should think of dictionaries as objective tools. She took the time to explain at length the subjective process of selecting and the ordering of the particular chosen definitions for each entry.
Law isn't merely an abstract debate
Barrett also commands her students to treat each other with the utmost respect when engaging in classroom debate. When discussing constitutional law, emotions can run high as law students figure out how to think about and discuss issues of great importance to themselves and to our country. As a professor, Barrett quietly showed us through her example the importance of challenging ideas rather than attacking people, as well as the necessity of setting personal beliefs aside when evaluating the answer to a legal question.
Moreover, she takes the time to explicitly remind her students that canonical Supreme Court cases must not be reduced to purely academic exercises, lest we forget that they affect — sometimes radically — the livelihoods of the very human beings before the court.
Many first-year law students study the “Erie doctrine,” a very technical set of rules regarding the source of law that courts apply in certain cases. Far fewer students, however, learn that the plaintiff in that case came to the court seeking redress after a horrendous accident, could no longer find employment as a laborer, and in part as a result of the court’s decision, died in poverty. This background was something that Barrett made sure that we learned about and appreciated.
A living example of integrity, virtue
Perhaps most importantly, Barrett has taught us how to become women of integrity and virtue. She treats every person with whom she interacts with the utmost respect, kindness, and warmth — an example we saw played out in the classroom, in office hours when we came to her for counsel, and in her family home as we shared a meal.
Her genuine interest in the personal lives of her students outside the classroom, and the seamless way that she modeled for all of us the integration of her professional and family life, reinforces that there is more to life than the pursuit of professional accolades.
USA TODAY Editorial Board: After Donald Trump nominates Amy Coney Barrett, Senate now must ask these questions
We all learned from Barrett to ask first how we are called to serve rather than simply climbing the career ladder. And we learned that we should pursue excellence as individuals, in everything that we do, rather than worry about the expectations of others. This critical lesson was encapsulated in the graduation speech that she delivered to many of us when our class selected her as professor of the year in 2016. “Comparison is the thief of joy,” she observed (quoting Teddy Roosevelt), “Each of us is a unique, unrepeatable combination of strengths and weaknesses, joys and sorrows.” And, she charged us that day — as she had modeled for us every day, “Throughout all of it, your joys will be so much sweeter and your burdens so much lighter if you embrace them as your own.”
Amy Coney Barrett is a woman of both profound intellect and depth of heart. We are better women, friends, and lawyers for having known and learned from her. She has enriched the lives of all who have come to know her at Notre Dame Law School, and we can only hope that the entire country also will be given the benefit of her example and service.
Alyson M. Cox is a member of Notre Dame Law School class of 2021. Mary K. Mangan graduated from Notre Dame Law School in 2016. Megan L. McKeown graduated from Notre Dame Law School in 2016. Sara A. McQuillen graduated from Notre Dame Law School in 2017. Audrey A. Moeller graduated from Notre Dame Law School in 2016. Laura E. Wolk graduated from Notre Dame Law School in 2016.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Amy Coney Barrett students: She's fair, tough and immensely qualified