A conversation with SCOTUS nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s former law student

Hosted by

Judge Amy Coney Barrett and her family are welcomed to the White House as President Trump nominated her to serve as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Photo by Office of the United States First Lady/Public Domain

Laura Wolk studied under Judge Amy Coney Barrett while she was at Notre Dame from 2013 to 2016. Last year, Wolk became the first blind female Supreme Court clerk. She clerked under Justice Clarence Thomas. And Judge Barrett has remained a mentor to her.

“At the second you start talking with her in any capacity, but especially of course in the classroom, it becomes immediately apparent that she is just incredibly intelligent. And confident and posed. … Her intellect is very incisive. And she’s able to look at any legal question, and not only see the best argument but the best counter argument for that argument,” says Wolk.

She adds that Amy Coney Barrett taught students to apply legal skills to their own lives. “So as an attorney when you’re representing a client, you’re not doing your job well enough if you’re only able to muster what you think are good arguments on your client’s behalf. You have to be able to anticipate what the other side will say, and address those weaknesses and be ready for all of the curveballs.”

She says Barrett was one of the best professors she had and was instrumental in helping her secure a clerkship on the court. “She was someone who was always there for me, always generous with giving her time.”

Wolk acknowledges that because of her disability, she faced extra hurdles and discrimination. “She was there to help me overcome my nervousness, but then she was also there with her mind to help me think of strategies and actual practical things that I could do to combat some of the barriers I was facing in the workplace.”

Many women fear Barrett represents a step back for women's rights and she might end abortion rights nationwide. Where does Wolk see Barrett when it comes to women’s rights?

Wolk responds, “The thing that we should be focusing on right now is her record and what the record says about her judicial philosophy. Because once you know about the judicial philosophy, then you can get a sense of how particularly any legal question — not necessarily tied to women's rights or any other issue — but any legal question will be answered.”

Wolk continues, “She views the role of a judge as very humble and very small. And that most of the decisions in this country are democratic ones that are left to the people and Congress. … She had said to us that she firmly believes that judges are not policymakers. And it's not their job to enact what they think is the best public policy into law. … She has proven to me to be a woman of her word.”

Credits

Guest:
Laura Wolk - former law student of Judge Amy Coney Barrett

Host:
Madeleine Brand

Producers:
Sarah Sweeney, Michell Eloy, Amy Ta, Rosalie Atkinson, Brian Hardzinski, Angie Perrin, Nihar Patel