The 2023 Robert A. Stein ’61 Lecture with Justice Amy Coney Barrett
Professor Stein and Justice Barrett had a wide-ranging conversation in front of a sold-out crowd
U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett expressed support for a code of ethics for justices and described her judicial philosophy and relationships with colleagues during her appearance at the 2023 Robert A. Stein ’61 Lecture.
Barrett became the sixth justice since 2014 to participate in the lecture series endowed by Stein, a former Law School dean and the current Everett Fraser Professor of Law. The 90-minute event occurred on Oct. 16 before more than 2,000 people at Northrop Auditorium.
Stein, noting that the court has faced criticism for not having a code of conduct, asked Barrett whether she would favor one. Reports that justices have failed to disclose travel and gifts have led some to call for the court to adopt such a code.
“I think it would be a good idea for us to do it, particularly so that we can communicate to the public exactly what it is that we’re doing in a clearer way than perhaps we have been able to do so far,” Barrett answered.
Justices are thinking about how to express how they already abide by statutes that govern financial disclosures and gifts, Barrett said. She couldn’t say when justices might agree on the details of an ethics code.
“I will say this, there is no lack of consensus among the justices,” Barrett said. “There’s unanimity among all nine justices that we should and do hold ourselves to the highest ethical standards possible.”
Stein, recalling that Barrett had served as a clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia before his passing, asked whether her statement that his judicial philosophy was hers still held true.
“Justice Scalia was very well known for his commitment to both originalism in constitutional interpretation and textualism in the interpretation of statutes,” she said. “And I would say that you could boil both of those judicial philosophies down to the proposition that the text is the law and the text controls. And I share that philosophy, and I share that commitment.”
Stein asked whether the sharp differences between the majority and dissenters in written opinions affected personal relationships between justices. Barrett, who took her seat in October 2020, added to the court’s conservative majority.
“The fire gets put on the page. It is not expressed in interpersonal relationships,” Justice Barrett said. “We are in the building with each other. Justices have lunch every day that we have oral arguments and every day after conference.”
Stein asked whether the four women justices otherwise ever get together.
“I don’t think that my perspective or that anybody’s perspective is different, just by virtue of being a woman,” Barrett said. “Because I think we bring to the law, our methodological and jurisprudential commitments that are independent of our sex. But I think it’s delightful to have the companionship of them on the court.”
Asked for her advice to law students in the audience, Barrett said they should learn to see and argue both sides of a case and to do so civilly and collegially.
“That’s how you produce results for your client,” the former Notre Dame Law School professor continued. “That’s also how you become good citizens. That’s how you become leading members of the bar. That’s how you contribute to your community. So, I would say soak up all of the opportunities that you can to take classes that challenge you, to hear ideas that challenge you, and learn how to debate and argue in ways that are respectful and will prepare you for when you step into the courtroom or the deal room and have to do that same thing.”
Barrett, who grew up in New Orleans — at “the other end of the Mississippi,” as Stein said — pointed out a family connection to the University.
“Professor Stein did not know this when he invited me, so I don’t think it was the reason he invited me,” Barrett said. “But my brother actually went to the U, so it’s not my first time visiting campus. He lived in a rental house in Dinkytown, so I went and visited him there.”
In addition to students, the audience for the Stein Lecture included judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, the Minnesota Supreme Court, and others in the Minnesota judiciary.
The University of Minnesota Police Department (UMPD) coordinated the significant security measures for the event. There was an orderly protest outside the building by organizations opposed to some of the Court’s recent decisions. A brief interruption by a small group of protestors inside the auditorium ended quickly when they cooperated with UMPD officers who escorted them out.
Previous Stein Lectures have included the late former Vice President Walter F. Mondale ’56; the late Supreme Court Associate Justices Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Chief Justice John Roberts; and Associate Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Previous Stein Lectures have included the late former Vice President Walter F. Mondale ’56; the late Supreme Court Associate Justices Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Chief Justice John Roberts; and Associate Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.