President Donald Trump’s official nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett excited more than just evangelicals and supporters of the pro-life movement on Saturday. The nomination of a non–Ivy League judge to the Supreme Court of the United States is the first in almost four decades.
Since Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was nominated and confirmed as the first woman to the bench in 1981, all 13 justices who followed O’Connor graduated from Harvard Law School or Yale Law School. O’Connor graduated from Stanford Law School.
However, if Barrett is confirmed, it would open a new path for law students who are not studying at one of the prestigious 12 and students at the University of Notre Dame are particularly enthused about her nomination.
“It’s exciting for us,” third-year law student Caleb Acker told Newsweek. “There’s a lot of energy here right now. Beneath the face masks, there’s a lot of excitement in the eyes—just to be able to see Notre Dame Law School there.”
The confirmation of a Supreme Court justice who graduated from a non–Ivy League school could open up new opportunities for current students.
“For the last couple of decades or so, nominations to the highest court have basically been the exclusive jurisdiction of two schools,” another third-year law student Keith Onegri said. “Not only for Notre Dame, but the greater legal community—the pure principal of getting away from that will probably be well received by everyone who’s not at Harvard and Yale. A lot of people will be happy to see a little bit of shake up.”
“Obviously, there’s contention about ‘is this how we wanted to do it?,’ but I think that would be really exciting,” Onegri added.
The timing of Barrett’s nomination has opened up a hot political debate.
With fewer than 40 days until Election Day and the support of the majority-Republican Senate, Trump nominated the judge to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s vacancy on Saturday. The decision has been widely criticized by Democrats who were blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from nominating Judge Merrick Garland in 2016.
Many have argued that the nomination should be made by the winner of November’s presidential election—stance taken, and since reversed, by a number of prominent Republicans when Justice Antonin Scalia died nine months before the 2016 election.
Despite the controversy surrounding Barrett’s nomination, students at her alma mater seem excited to see her nominated for a Supreme Court seat.
“I think it’s tough to argue that this isn’t a great thing overall for Notre Dame,” first-year law student student Courtney Klaus told Newsweek. “There’s something just naturally exciting about going to a school where you know graduates have gone on to be on the highest court of the land. The sky’s really the limit when you’re in an environment like that.”
Although students are generally supportive of Barrett’s nomination, Notre Dame isn’t entirely insulated from the political discourse that has challenged who should be the one to name Ginsburg’s successor.
“There are some students, myself included, who have some conflicting feelings about it,” Klaus said. “On one hand this is really good news for Notre Dame, but it would also be best, especially based on the precedent set in 2016, to wait until we know the results of the 2020 presidential election before we fill Justice Ginsburg’s seat.”
“Notre Dame has a really deep sense of community, but also I would say there are diverse views within Notre Dame,” she added. “I think there are a lot of people who are excited for Notre Dame but not necessarily excited for some of the broader implications that the nomination might have.”
Klaus said that the timing of Barrett’s nomination, which came just over a week after Ginsburg’s death, also made it difficult for students to grapple with the announcement.
“There was a lot of sadness when Justice Ginsburg died,” she said. “Students expressing that sadness and then so shortly, finding out this news can be pretty emotionally stressed and conflicted.”
While some students remain at odds about Barrett’s nomination, the judge’s reputation as a professor remains overwhelmingly positive across the board. Barrett, who graduated first in her class in 1997, returned to teach at Notre Dame in 2002 and has won Distinguished Professor of the Year three times during her 18 years at the school.
“She never tries to impose her views on interpretative philosophy or religion on anything like that on us,” Acker, who is currently taking her seminar class on statutory interpretation, said. “She’s trying to get us to become better lawyers and better thinkers. We all appreciate that, every single one of us, no matter where we come from on the political spectrum.”
Ongeri, who is also enrolled in Barrett’s seminar class this semester, agreed with his classmate.
“Everybody, I think, is in agreement of her qualification,” he said. “I think she’s really sharp. I think everyone acknowledges when it comes to the substantive, material aspects of being one of those nine, she’s already there. If anything, the delineation is more in the prudence of the political aspect of the job.”
Even Klaus, who hasn’t taken Barrett’s class, said the judge is well liked by students.
“As a professor and as a person, I’ve heard nothing but good things about her here. Everyone that I’ve talked to or that I’ve seen talk about her has said she’s a great professor.” she said. “She has a good reputation here for sure.”
Senate Republicans are planning to begin hearings for Barrett’s nomination on October 12 and come to a vote by October 22—less than two weeks before Election Day.
Start your unlimited Newsweek trial