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In her own words: Amy Coney Barrett on faith, precedent, abortion

President Trump and Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett
President Trump adjusts the microphone after announcing Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee to the Supreme Court on Sept. 26.
(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

Senate confirmation hearings begin Monday for Amy Coney Barrett, the Chicago-based appellate court judge whom President Trump has nominated to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Barrett has come under scrutiny for her views on the Constitution, her membership in a conservative Roman Catholic group and her past statements on abortion rights. Here are some notable quotes by Barrett:

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ON JUDICIAL NOMINEES

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“However cagey a justice may be at the nomination stage, her approach to the Constitution becomes evident in the opinions she writes. ... It would be difficult for a modern justice to avoid revealing her position on whether the original public meaning of the Constitution controls its interpretation.” — 2013 article in the Texas Law Review.

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“We shouldn’t be putting people on the court that share our policy preferences. We should be putting people on the court who want to apply the Constitution.” — 2016 speech at Jacksonville University’s Public Policy Institute

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ON ABORTION

“If anything, the public response to controversial cases like Roe [vs. Wade] reflects public rejection of the proposition that [precedent] can declare a permanent victor in a divisive constitutional struggle rather than desire that precedent remain forever unchanging. Court watchers embrace the possibility of overruling, even if they may want it to be the exception rather than the rule.” — 2013 article in the Texas Law Review, citing Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 landmark ruling that recognized a woman’s right to abortion.

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“I think it is very unlikely at this point that the court is going to overturn [Roe vs. Wade]. ... The fundamental element, that the woman has a right to choose abortion, will probably stand.” — 2013 lecture at Notre Dame on the 40th anniversary of the Roe ruling.

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Conservative Catholics have provided much of the energy for the Republican effort to move the judiciary to the right. Democrats are treading gingerly.

“I don’t think abortion or the right to abortion would change. I think some of the restrictions would change. ... The question is how much freedom the court is willing to let states have in regulating abortion.” — 2016 remarks on how a conservative Supreme Court could alter current law on abortion, saying it wasn’t likely to try to overturn Roe. She said the questions the high court would be willing to address would be states’ restrictions on abortions, including how abortion clinics operate.

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ON FAITH AND POLITICS

“[Catholic judges] are obliged by oath, professional commitment, and the demands of citizenship to enforce the death penalty. They are also obliged to adhere to their church’s teaching on moral matters.” — 1998 article co-written by Barrett in the Marquette Law Review on how some Catholic judges would feel torn on certain legal questions because of the teachings of their faith.

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“If you’re asking whether I take my faith seriously and I’m a faithful Catholic — I am, although I would stress that my personal church affiliation or my religious belief would not bear in the discharge of my duties as a judge.” — Confirmation hearing in 2017 before the Senate Judiciary Committee considering her nomination for the appeals court, after Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked her if she was orthodox Catholic.

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“Never. It’s never appropriate for a judge to impose that judge’s personal convictions, whether they derive from faith or anywhere else on the law.” — 2017 Senate hearing

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“I totally reject and I have rejected throughout my entire career the proposition that, as you say, the end justifies the means or that a judge should decide cases based on a desire to reach a certain outcome.” — 2017 Senate hearing

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“I would decide cases according to rule of law, beginning to end, and in the rare circumstance that might ever arise — I can’t imagine one sitting here now — where I felt that I had some conscientious objection to the law, I would recuse. I would never impose my own personal convictions upon the law. — 2017 Senate hearing

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“I can’t think of any cases or category of cases in which I would feel obliged to recuse on the grounds of conscience.” — 2017 Senate hearing

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More than 1,500 alumni of the college Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett graduated from are not proud of their ties to her.

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“A judge may never subvert the law or twist it in any way to match the judge’s convictions from whatever source they derive.” — 2017 Senate hearing

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ON PRECEDENT

“In the Supreme Court, [adhering to precedent] is a soft rule; the Court describes it as one of policy rather than as an ‘inexorable command.’” — 2013 article in the Texas Law Review

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“Leaving room for new majorities to overrule old ones allows changed membership to change what the Court says the Constitution means.” — Texas Law Review

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“If the Court’s opinions change with its membership, public confidence in the Court as an institution might decline. Its members might be seen as partisan rather than impartial and case law as fueled by power rather than reason.” — Texas Law Review

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A justice must “think carefully about whether she is sure enough about her rationale for overruling to pay the cost of upsetting institutional investment in the prior approach. If she is not sure enough, the preference for continuity trumps.” — Texas Law Review

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“Institutional features of Supreme Court practice permit all Justices to let some sleeping dogs lie, and so far as we are aware, no one has ever argued that a Justice is duty-bound to wake them up.” — 2017 article co-written by Barrett in the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law, arguing that there often are pragmatic reasons not to attempt to overturn precedents even if a justice is convinced they were wrongly decided


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