Amy Coney Barrett, a role model for justice

Amy Coney Barrett, the newest Supreme Court justice of the United States, has an impressive judicial career and no one can argue the contrary. I looked deeper into her resume and in all of her practice of law and one thing stood out for me.

Appointed by President Donald Trump the 26th of September 2020 to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, now Justice Barrett has received many praises for her accomplishments. One of her accomplishments is graduating from Notre Dame law school with a Juris Doctor Summa Cum Laude which is translated from Latin “with highest praise” as she was the first of her class. Nevertheless, she was criticized by democrats mainly, of being a puppet of the Republican party among other serious and threatening accusations. But this does not stand when revisiting her legal career.

While serving as judge on the US 7th circuit court of appeals, Judge Barrett ruled on many cases, one of which caught my attention. That was in Kanter v. Barr regarding the 2nd amendment. Judge Barrett dissented in a 2-1 decision for the plaintiff Rickey Kanter but the court overall favored the defendant William Barr, the attorney general of the United states. 

To understand the context, the second Amendment states:

“[…] the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

In this case, the plaintiff Rickey Kanter claimed that his second amendment right was violated as he is prohibited from buying any firearm because he had committed felonies in the past. He argued that the statutes which prohibit him from owning firearms are unconstitutional because he has the status of a non-violent offender. Nonetheless, the court ruled against Kanter and found his claim to be “without merit”.

Judge Barrett then, took a different approach. In her 37-page dissent she argued three main points.

Firstly, does Kanter’s claim to possess firearm falls under the scope of the second Amendment? Contrarily to Binderup v. Attorney General, Kanter is not a violent offender. Consequently, Kanter’s case falls directly under the scope of the second Amendment and that history and tradition can define the boundaries of the right. At the court of appeals, judges usually apply precedent as cases have already been decided by the supreme court. However, there are not a lot of precedent on the second Amendment, apart from District of Columbia v. Heller that was recently ruled on. So, she needed to research into the founding-era documents to draw her conclusion.

Moreover, she argued that committing a crime should not automatically cause a citizen to lose his rights. She cites that:

“a person convicted of a qualifying crime does not automatically lose his right to keep and bear arms but instead becomes eligible to lose it.”

Secondly, Amy Coney Barrett took a deep dive into the historical context and evidence of the matter. She analyzed founding-era laws of three states: New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. Their ratifying conventions indicated the boundaries of the right to bear arms in those states. She noted that “none of the relevant limiting language in those three conventions made [their] way to the second Amendment” and that the other States’ ratifying conventions “did not contain similar language of limitation or exclusion.” She weighted what supported the exclusion of this right and what did not and concluded that:

“founding-era legislatures categorically disarmed groups whom they judged to be a threat to the public safety. But neither the convention proposals nor historical practice supports a legislative power to categorically disarm felons because of their status as felons.”

Furthermore, Judge Barrett argued that the loss of rights cannot be tied to the individual’s status as confirmed by 18th and 19th century laws. As punishments in the past were more severe, many would have died for their sentence and obviously lose all their rights. Those who were free men after their sentence did not lose all their rights because they were previously convicted. Common sense as well as history showed that only for those whom the state deemed to be dangerous that the state took away their second Amendment. She illustrated a point with the freedom of speech. It is not because someone has the status of a felon that the state could restrict his right to speak his mind.

Thirdly, Judge Barrett explored whom the person should be, according to the state, to qualify for the banned category. Under federal law, anyone convicted of a felony lose their second amendment right. She quoted United States v. Williams mentioning that it is not because “Congress established a ‘categorical ban’” that the government can have a free pass. She argued that right now, statutes have an overbreadth and anything which are misdemeanors are included in the ban, even with insufficient proof by the government. Kanter has been convicted of mail fraud and the government has tried to tie it to the possibility that he will commit violent offenses in the future using statistics. The problem is that this ties all non-violent offenders together and that they would all be violent offenders. In Massachusetts, it is a felony to sell pigs without a license and there are countless more felonies that the states establish. Therefore, anything the states establish as felonies would immediately categorize the individuals who commit those offenses to lose their second Amendment right. And there is no limit to what the states can define as felonies.

This dissent from Amy Coney Barrett proves some facts on her. One is that she is not a puppet of the president or the republican party. She ruled against the Trump administration on this case, this shows that she has a legal mind of her own. This also affirms her approach to the law. Like her mentor Justice Antonin Scalia, Amy Coney Barrett’s judicial philosophy is originalism and textualism. This approach can be demonstrated in this case. An originalist because she drew her conclusion by the original understanding of the founding fathers.  A textualist because she takes the place of how people at the time of the constitution would think about the second Amendment and researched the founding-era document to write her opinion.

To conclude, I believe that Justice Barrett should be a role model for so many people. For parents in general because she can juggle her family life as a mother of seven and being a working mom with an extremely demanding job. She is very humble and even acknowledges one of her sister’ job as a housewife as being the hardest. Justice Barrett has a judicial philosophy more people with a legal profession should consider adopting and her legal analysis is just clever. Additionally, her skills as a law professor and judge has been acknowledged by the people who worked with her. Consequently, her arguments on this case personally impressed me and her career and life have many lessons to teach us.

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