WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump appointed Amy Coney Barrett, Barbara Lagoa and Allison Jones Rushing, three conservatives, to federal appellate court judgeships in recent years and now could pick one of them as his nominee for a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court.
They appear to be at the top of the U.S. leader’s list of choices to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the liberal icon who served on the court for 27 years before her death Friday, a month and a half before the November 3 reelection contest between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.
Any of the three women — Barrett, 48, Lagoa, 52, and Rushing, 38 — would draw immediate support from Republican lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Senate. And their decisions could ensure a string of philosophically conservative decisions for a generation to come. Any of the three would likely draw vocal opposition from Democrats, even though Lagoa won appellate court confirmation on a bipartisan 80-15 vote.
Most Democrats are likely to oppose the confirmation of any of the three because it would push the current 5-4 conservative edge on the court to 6-3 and could for decades affect decisions on a host of issues, including abortion, immigration, health care, religious liberty, among others.
Here are brief sketches of the three judges:
Amy Coney Barrett taught law at the University of Notre Dame, one of the most prominent Catholic universities in the United States, for 15 years before Trump named her to the appellate bench in 2017. In opposing her appointment then, Democrats voiced concerns about the professed role of religion in her life.
They cited one of her comments at Notre Dame, where Barrett, a Catholic, told students that a “legal career is but a means to an end … and that end is building the Kingdom of God.”
California Senator Dianne Feinstein was one of several Democrats who questioned whether Barrett's religious beliefs made her unqualified to adjudicate specific cases, specifically ones related to abortion, which the Catholic church opposes.
"Dogma and law are two different things,” Feinstein told Barrett during her appellate court confirmation hearings. “And I think whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different. And I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern."
Republicans view her as reliably conservative and a future Supreme Court vote to overturn the landmark 1973 decision legalizing abortion rights in the U.S., but Barrett has offered conflicting comments on how she might vote on abortion cases.
During her confirmation hearing to the appeals court, Barrett said she would “follow all Supreme Court precedent without fail” and would regard decisions such as Roe v. Wade as binding precedent.
“I would never impose my own personal convictions upon the law,” she said.
But she also has written that judges should not be held to upholding Supreme Court precedents, such as the abortion decision.
She won Senate confirmation on a 55-43 vote.
Barbara Lagoa was the first Cuban American woman to serve on the Florida state Supreme Court before becoming a federal judge in 2019. She is the daughter of parents who fled from Cuba as Fidel Castro assumed power over the island in the 1959 revolution.
"She’s an extraordinary person,” Trump has said. “I’ve heard at length about her. She’s Hispanic and highly respected — Miami. Highly respected."
In 2000, as a private attorney, Lagoa was part of the legal team that defended the Miami-based relatives of Elian Gonzales, the Cuban boy caught up in the dramatic custody dispute between his father in Cuba and his relatives in Miami. The boy was eventually returned to Cuba after swimming ashore into the U.S. as his mother drowned.
Lagoa was a state court judge for more than a decade before Florida Governor Ron DeSantis appointed her to the Florida Supreme Court in January 2019. At the time, he said, "She has been the essence of what a judge should be.”
She signaled she would interpret laws as written.
“It is the role of judges to apply, not to alter, the work of the people’s representatives,” she said at the time. Less than a year later, Trump tapped her for an appellate court opening.
Allison Jones Rushing won her appellate court confirmation last year with party-line Republican support over Democratic opposition, on a 53-44 vote.
Democrats, civil rights, and gay and lesbian groups opposed her nomination.
They cited her internship with Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based conservative, Christian legal nonprofit that defended a Colorado baker in a Supreme Court case who fought for the right not to bake a cake for a gay wedding and in another instance that allowed companies to opt out of providing insurance for contraceptives for employees because of the owners’ religious beliefs.
In addition, Rushing defended the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Rushing said she supported the four conservative justices who dissented when the Supreme Court struck down the ruling in 2015.
Tim Chandler, the senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, defended Rushing, saying, “The Senate confirmed not only a highly qualified lawyer, but a woman of integrity, professional competence, and judicial demeanor.