WASHINGTON - In his all-but-certain nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump has chosen a well-regarded legal scholar who has strong appeal to conservatives and who almost surely would move the high court significantly to the right on abortion, guns and other high-profile issues.
If the Senate's Republican majority holds to its plan to quickly elevate her to the Supreme Court, her confirmation to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would mark the sharpest ideological shift in a new appointment in the nearly three decades since Clarence Thomas, a 43-year old conservative, was narrowly confirmed to succeed liberal Justice Thurgood Marshall in 1991.
Barrett, 48, is a former Notre Dame Law professor and a favorite law clerk of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who remains an icon in conservative legal circles, much like Ginsburg is regarded by liberals.
Barrett has a limited record as a judge with over three years on the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. But as a law professor, she wrote several lengthy articles on when justices should consider overturning long-standing precedents, including the Roe vs. Wade decision that granted the right to abortion.
Both sides in the decades-long fight over abortion believe she's likely to provide the key vote to overturn or dramatically scale back nationwide abortion rights, giving conservative states the power to outlaw some or all abortions, as many did before the high court's 1973 Roe ruling.
She has also indicated support for a broad view of gun rights under the 2nd Amendment, another area in which she could cement a majority to change the law.
As an appeals court judge, Barrett joined a dissent in 2018 when her colleagues struck down an Indiana law, signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence, that would have outlawed abortions that were based on the race, sex or disability of a fetus. The dissent, written by appeals court Judge Frank Easterbrook, referred to the Indiana statute as "an anti-eugenics law."
Indiana took the case to the Supreme Court, which in May of 2019, after five months of internal debate, refused to hear the state's appeal. The justices voted to uphold another less significant part of the law that required abortion clinics to bury or cremate fetal remains.
Although the Supreme Court has had a conservative majority for years, it has repeatedly disappointed anti-abortion activists. In June, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who had been a steady foe of abortion, voted with the court's four liberals, including Ginsburg, to strike down a Louisiana law regulating abortion clinics.
Roberts said he was constrained to follow precedent: The Louisiana law was identical to a Texas statute that had been struck down in 2016. Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Thomas sharply dissented.