Amy Coney Barrett Speaks at Notre Dame about Law and Fairness

Author: Genevieve Redsten


By Genevieve Redsten

Amy Coney Barrett Speaks at Notre Dame about Law and Fairness

On February 14, Justice Amy Coney Barrett returned to Notre Dame Law School — her alma mater and former employer — to speak about the tension between law and fairness.


Barrett’s speech was the keynote address at the Notre Dame Law Review’s 2022 Federal Courts Symposium. This volume marks the 25th anniversary of her tenure as executive editor of the Notre Dame Law Review.

The topic of Barrett’s address was “federal equity power,” a subject that Barrett said “sounds like one only a law professor could love.” It refers to the sometimes controversial power of federal courts to provide a remedy when the law alone is not sufficiently fair.

“At root, it's about the tension between the demands of the law, which constrains, and the demands of fairness, which is flexible,” Barrett said. “That tension permeates almost every area of our law.”

Barrett cautioned law students to think carefully before arguing that federal courts should have major discretion in cases like these. They might want courts to have such power when the judge sees the world as they do, Barrett said, but they might regret it when the judge has different beliefs.

“Is that discretion really what you want federal judges to have?” Barrett asked.

That same tension, Barrett said, lies at the center of debates between liberal and conservative judges and justices — or “pragmatists” and “formalists” as Barrett described them.

As the newest addition to the Supreme Court, Barrett has just over one year of experience on the job. Her appointment to the court cemented a 6-3 conservative majority.

Barrett said the transition to life as a public figure has been challenging. She said she’s still adjusting to the increased fame and scrutiny.

“I like being at Notre Dame and in South Bend, where people knew me before I was Justice Barrett,” she said. 

Barrett is the third Supreme Court justice to speak publicly on Notre Dame’s campus this year. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito both paid visits to campus in September.