During the first presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, President Trump stated that some of Amy Coney Barrett’s “biggest endorsers are very liberal people from Notre Dame.” As a former law student of the Supreme Court nominee, and as the former Notre Dame LGBT Law Forum president, I disagree with this characterization of Professor Barrett’s support — and I would note that Professor Barrett refused numerous opportunities to support the LGBTQ students of Notre Dame.
During my time at Notre Dame Law, the University was reluctant to recognize the LGBT Law Forum, a student-run organization that hosts events, panels and presentations for students and faculty on legal issues facing the LGBTQ community, and did not employ any openly LGBTQ tenure-track faculty. However, as a private Catholic University, Notre Dame employed a slew of professors whose scholarship opposed the advancement of LGBTQ rights. Despite numerous calls over the past four decades to change its anti-discrimination policy and include gender and sexual orientation as protected classes, Notre Dame continues to uphold the unfettered ability to discriminate as the university’s right. Hundreds of alumni, students and professors have signed petitions over the years to extend the University’s nondiscrimination policy. Professor Barrett has not.
During my law school years, both conservative and liberal law professors attended LGBT Law Forum events, or events co-sponsored with other affinity organizations, such as the Black Law Students Association and the Hispanic Law Students Association, even just to sit in and learn from our speakers impartially. Professor Barrett did not. You might say, maybe as a professor and as a judge in later years, perhaps Amy Coney Barrett was simply too busy. But, throughout those years, she found the time to deliver speeches and attend numerous panels, luncheons and events hosted by Notre Dame’s Federalist Society, a student-run conservative group that hosts events and panels for students and faculty, as well as events hosted by the Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ hate group whose CEO recently attended Barrett’s Rose Garden confirmation.
Professor Barrett had the time to introduce a Federalist Society event, featuring homophobic Notre Dame alum Sherif Girgis, the author of, What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense. She had the time to question the Obergefell decision, and claim that applying Title IX’s protections to trans individuals from discrimination in employment, housing, and more would be an interpretive “strain.” Not only has Barrett proven to be an anti-LGBTQ advocate in her public speeches and legal stance, she has a record of failing to serve as an ally to her Notre Dame Law students — in a time when we could have benefited from the allyship of a prominent professor such as herself.
Many law professors have opted to speak personally to Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins and address the marginalization of Notre Dame’s LGBTQ students, as well as the importance of valuing students of color, but Professor Barrett, to my knowledge, has not. In 2018, when Professor Barrett’s colleague and my former professor, Gerard Bradley, wrote that “people have had to live with irregular sexual relationships since the dawn of time. But legalized same-sex marriage is different, and worse, than anything that has plagued societies before,” numerous professors reached out to the LGBT Law Forum to offer support, and some staff even publicly condemned the comments. Professor Barrett did not.
Professor Barrett chose not to attend one of the most contentious events in Notre Dame Law history — when Jim Obergefell, Greg Bourke and Michael De Leon, plaintiffs in the consolidated Obergefell cases, came to Notre Dame Law to speak about their experiences fighting for marriage equality before the Supreme Court. Now, Michael De Leon and his husband Greg Bourke — who also happens to be a Notre Dame alum — say that Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment would present a “potential threat to marriage equality, an issue settled by the Court just over five years ago, and would also present an opportunity for Barrett to foist her anti-LGBTQ sentiment on high-court decisions over several decades in the future.”
Other professors and alumni, regardless of their political affiliation (and many of Catholic faith), reached out to support the LGBT Law Forum when law students wrote in to the school newspaper disparaging the Obergefell ruling, noting that marriage should be between a man and a woman and that the plaintiffs in the case are living “in a way that defies the truth of the Catholic teaching on marriage.” Professor Barrett did not. During her time as a professor, Barrett expressed similar sentiments — including signing letters noting that marriage should be based on the indissoluble commitment of a man and a woman. Many professors noted that, even if they disagreed with the Obergefell ruling as a matter of faith (which a majority of Catholics do not), they understood the importance of having the plaintiffs speak to Notre Dame’s future attorneys. Professor Barrett, again, did not reach out.
Reviewing these specific instances of Amy Coney Barrett’s relationship with Notre Dame’s LGBTQ community, you will notice a common theme — her unwillingness to support her students as an ally, and in many cases, her vocal anti-LGBTQ sentiments. While Barrett has been criticized on numerous issues, from the possibility of her overturning Roe v. Wade to her qualifications — as her former student, I have to speak of what I know best: her actions as a professor and alum. And based on that record, one thing is true: If Barrett takes the seat of former Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who helped usher in progress for LGBTQ rights during her tenure, the LGBTQ community will not have an ally on the Supreme Court.
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