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Amy Coney Barrett explains what it means to be an originalist, calls Scalia a mentor

Amy Coney Barrett answers question on whether she’d be a ‘female Scalia’

Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett responds to question from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., kicked off the question-and-answer portion of Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation hearing by zeroing in on her judicial philosophy, as well as comparisons to the late conservative icon Justice Antonin Scalia.

Barrett has described herself as a constitutional originalist, and Graham began his questioning by having the nominee explain what that means in plain English.

"So in English, that means that I interpret the Constitution as a law, that I interpret its text as text, and I understand it to have the meaning that it had at the time people ratified it," Barrett said. "So that meaning doesn’t change over time and it’s not up to me to update it or infuse my own policy views into it."

Graham then referenced Scalia, for whom Barrett clerked early in her career, asking how she would react to being called a female version of Scalia.

"I would say that Justice Scalia was obviously a mentor, and as I said when I accepted the president’s nomination, that his philosophy is mine too," Barrett said. "You know he was a very eloquent defender of originalism, and that was also true of textualism, which is the way that I approach statutes and their interpretation."

Barrett further explained that just like an originalist view of the Constitution, a textualist view of statutes means that a judge looks at a law as it was written, and not by imposing their own meaning. She did note, however, that originalists and textualists can have different views of what those words mean, and that just because she and Scalia have the same philosophy, they are not the same person.

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett speaks during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool)

"I want to be careful to say that if I’m confirmed you would not be getting Justice Scalia, you would be getting Justice Barrett," she said. "And that’s so because originalists don’t always agree, and neither do textualists."


Barrett illustrated her point by referencing the disagreements Scalia had with Justice Clarence Thomas, which showed that originalism is "not a mechanical exercise."

The originalist approach is usually supported by Republicans, who have warned against having judges who take a more activist approach to the law by interpreting it through an ideological lens. Barrett said that she is capable of putting her personal views aside and applying the law as it was written.

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