Despite facing a contentious vetting process in which she was subjected to attacks on her character, her faith, and even her family, Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to become an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court late last year following her nomination by then-President Donald Trump.
On Thursday, Justice Coney Barrett delivered her first-ever majority (7-2) opinion at the high court, rejecting arguments made by the Sierra Club in a dispute over access to federal government records, as the Associated Press reported.
Court watchers noted that the assignment of this case to Barrett as her first written majority opinion represented a bit of a break from tradition. Typically, newcomers to the court are given a case in which the court has ruled unanimously, as was true of the initial opinions authored by Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Sonia Sotomayor.
The majority opinion, from which Justices Stephen Breyer and Sotomayor dissented, limited the ability of environmental groups such as the Sierra Club to obtain government records via the Freedom of Information Act, according to Bloomberg.
The dispute at issue involved a change proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency that would regulate structures that utilize water as a means to cool industrial equipment. The Sierra Club sought drafts of opinions issued by other agencies discussing the possible effects on endangered species, Bloomberg further noted.
According to the majority opinion in the case, the government is not bound to release documents that articulate merely the “preliminary thinking” of an agency, even if those positions are eventually part of its final position.
Some observers noted that the majority opinion in the case, drafted by Justice Breyer of the court’s liberal wing, does not utilize the traditional closing language of “I respectfully disssent,” instead reading simply, “I dissent.” Whether this distinction might be an indication of personal animus against the majority opinion’s author or simply a sharp disagreement on the legal issue presented is unknown.
Throughout her journey to confirmation on the high court, Coney Barrett stood strong in the face of harsh condemnation from liberal groups such as Planned Parenthood and the National Organization for Women, which hyperbolically claimed she would “turn back the clock on equality,” and characterized her nomination as a “particular insult to the legacy of Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg.
Fortunately, Coney Barrett’s impeccable reputation as a legal scholar, jurist, and human being won the day, with former colleague and outspoken liberal Harvard law professor Noah Feldman contradicting her critics on the left by predicting that Barrett would indeed “be a good justice, maybe even a great one – even if I disagree with her all the way.”