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Amy Coney Barrett is the favorite of social conservatives, but Democrats are already taking aim

Amy Coney Barrett is the favorite of social conservatives, but Democrats are already taking aim
Amy Coney Barrett was narrowly approved last year to her first judicial posting, on the Chicago-based U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. She's expressed a willingness to overturn Supreme Court precedents. (University of Notre Dame)

Of the leading contenders to become President Trump’s second pick to the Supreme Court, none have garnered more attention — and controversy — than Amy Coney Barrett.

Barrett, 46, is a newcomer with a sparse record as a judge. She was narrowly approved last year to her first judicial posting, on the Chicago-based U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

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But she quickly became the favorite for many social conservatives in Trump’s base, who like that she hails from South Bend, Ind., is a devout Catholic and has expressed a willingness to overturn Supreme Court precedents.

She has written and spoken frequently about the importance of her Catholic faith and in her belief that life begins at conception. That has led both supporters and detractors to believe she would be a solid vote to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling that established a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. Some Republican strategists also think it would be smart for President Trump to appoint a conservative woman to the Supreme Court if battles over abortion and religion are coming.

Last year during Barrett’s confirmation for the appellate seat, 17 women’s rights groups pointed out in a letter to the Senate that a 2003 article by Barrett appeared to say Roe was an erroneous decision. She had written that judges had considered when respect for precedent could justify keeping “an erroneous decision on the books,” and she cited just one decision, the 1992 Planned Parenthood vs. Casey ruling in which the high court reaffirmed the Roe decision.

Barrett’s supporters insist she was not expressing a personal view about Roe, but merely referring to the legal debate over whether a disputed precedent should be preserved because millions of women have come to rely on it.

But in her writings, she has called for the Supreme Court to be more open to overturning previous rulings, something that will likely become an issue if she faces confirmation hearings.

“I tend to agree with those who say that a justice’s duty is to the Constitution and that is thus more legitimate for her to enforce her best understanding of the Constitution rather than a precedent she thinks is clearly in conflict with it,” Barrett wrote in 2013.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who will hold one of the deciding votes on Trump’s nomination, has said she will only support a candidate who shows respect for court precedents.

As the media began to focus on Barrett in recent weeks, Democrats also took notice. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) unleashed a string of criticisms against Barrett over her comments and writings about contraception, the Affordable Care Act, abortion and Supreme Court precedents.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) pressed Barrett during her confirmation hearing last year about an article in which Barrett suggested Catholic judges should recuse themselves from matters that conflict with their faith, such as signing death penalty orders.

“Dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s a concern,’’ Feinstein said. Conservatives and religious groups pounced on the senator, saying her comment reflected a lack of religious tolerance.

Barrett went to law school at Notre Dame and spent a few years in Washington as a law clerk for D.C. Circuit Judge Laurence Silberman and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. She returned to Notre Dame in 2002 to teach law.

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