Justice Amy Coney Barrett said Monday night that she has developed a thick skin to criticism during her tenure as a judge and stressed that she welcomes public scrutiny of the Supreme Court.
“I think that justices and all judges are public figures and public criticism kind of comes with the job,” she told an audience in Wisconsin.
“I’ve been at it for a couple of years now, and I’ve acquired a thick skin,” Barrett said. “And I think that’s what public figures have to do and that’s what all judges have to do,” she continued.
Barrett’s comments came in response to a general question about increased public scrutiny of the court before an audience of judges and others attending a judicial conference in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Barrett appeared with Judge Diane Sykes who sits on the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals and was once on President Donald Trump’s list of potential nominees for the Supreme Court.
Sykes did not ask Barrett specifically about a recent array of news stories alleging that some of the justices on the current court are skirting ethics rules. Nor did Barrett address the fact that congressional Democrats are pressuring the court to adopt a code of conduct that specifically targets the justices.
Instead, Barrett spoke generally about the court’s history – pointing to times when the court, and specific justices, were singled out for criticism.
“I think critiques of the court and the court being a public topic is not new,” Barrett said, mentioning “impeach Earl Warren” signs that popped up after a series of landmark cases in the ’60s.
She stressed that public scrutiny is “welcome” and did not reference the fact that public opinion polls of the court are holding steady at historic lows.
During her talk, Barrett insisted that personal relationships on the court are “warm”.
But her comments Monday differed in tone to some of the more heated opinions released over the last two terms when the justices divided bitterly mostly along ideological lines on topics that often grab the public’s attention including abortion, the environment, gun rights, religious liberty and affirmative action.
During the last term, the court’s conservative majority once again moved to gut long-standing precedent, shifting the court to the right as well as striking down President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness program.
Barrett, a conservative, noted that she had been warmly welcomed at the court upon her arrival after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who led the court’s liberal wing. Barrett said that Justice Sonia Sotomayor provided Barrett’s children with individualized Halloween bags and Justice Neil Gorsuch offered his help when she needed to set up chambers in a hurry.
She revealed that more recently, following tradition, she had thrown a party for Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson who replaced Barrett as the junior most justice on the court. Barrett said she researched Jackson’s favorite food and arranged for someone to sing Hamilton show tunes as the justices shared a meal.
Barrett allowed that there was “some truth” to a description of the court as being like a marriage with no possibility of divorce. But, she said, she is grateful that the current members get along even if they sometimes divide bitterly on paper. “There is warmth on the court and there is respect,” she said.
At times the justices work to accommodate each other, Barrett contended, by trying to craft more narrow opinions to achieve consensus. She said the justices find themselves insulated from some of the “furor” that occurs across the street in Congress.
The justices are set to return to the court in late September for their first closed door conference after their summer recess. They will appear in open court on October 2 to launch a new term which will include a major Second Amendment case as well as conservative led challenge to the so-called administrative state, a major tax case and a dispute concerning a redistricting out of South Carolina.