Guest Columnist

Teacher, mentor, colleague: Judge Barrett will be an outstanding justice

University of Iowa College of Law professor supports Trump's Supreme Court pick

President Donald Trump introduces Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his Supreme Court Associate Justice nominee in the Rose Gar
President Donald Trump introduces Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his Supreme Court Associate Justice nominee in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)

I’ve known Judge Amy Coney Barrett for 15 years. She’s been my teacher, my mentor and my colleague. And she will be a tremendous asset as a justice on the United States Supreme Court.

Barrett was my evidence professor at Notre Dame Law School. In the classroom, she was an incredible teacher. Every seat in her classes were filled. Not only did she have a masterful understanding of the law, speaking lucidly and thoughtfully, she treated all law students from all backgrounds with dignity and respect.

And while she deftly navigated a complex body of federal law, Barrett also made sure to show her sense of humor. Of course, she didn’t need gimmicks to hold the class’s attention, but I still remember when she aired a video of Lego figurines in a musical tribute to the rules of hearsay — we all roared with laughter.

Her prose is clear and concise. And her opinions are thorough.

After graduating Notre Dame, I turned to Barrett as a mentor when I wanted to be a law professor. Despite being a busy mother of seven and a federal judge, Barrett has always remained available for counsel and advice to navigate a career in academia. From questions ranging from classroom tips to research ideas, Barret has proved an invaluable sounding board to me. And I know I’m not alone. She patiently and generously shares her time with countless others, too. Barrett embodies a life of service, of selfless commitment to thinking of others more than herself.

While her excellent scholarly record has earned broad academic recognition and praise, her recent judicial opinions further demonstrate the sharp intellect she brings to the bench. Her prose is clear and concise. And her opinions are thorough.

To name one example: this year, she wrote an opinion in a case called Gadelhak v. AT&T Services. The case turned on the interpretation of a seven-word phrase in federal law. Barrett carefully looked to the tools of statutory interpretation, just like her former boss, the late Justice Antonin Scalia. She carefully walked through four competing interpretations of the phrase, going so far as to examine the placement of a comma in the statute. Her scrupulous attention to detail has made her an excellent appellate judge. And it will serve her well on the Supreme Court.

This spring, I returned to Notre Dame — no longer a student, but a visiting law professor, teaching evidence of all things. Barrett still teaches, so I had the distinct pleasure of serving as her colleague in the classroom. Yet again, I called her for advice. I have a child with special needs, as does Barrett. Despite being an exceedingly busy federal judge, she spent the better part of an hour on the phone helping me navigate Midwestern service providers to help make the move easier for our family. Her compassion for others is palpable.

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Barrett’s nomination to the United States Supreme Court may yield divisions on some topics, but some things are undeniable and necessary preconditions to serving on the court. Barrett has the temperament and the intellect to be an outstanding Supreme Court justice. Her collegiality and her humility will make the court a better place. And her dedicated service to others will grow in stature and extend its reach across her distinguished career.

Derek T. Muller is a professor of law at the University of Iowa College of Law.

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