Justice Amy Coney Barrett struck a lighter tone Thursday evening as she reflected on her three years on the Supreme Court during a speech before the conservative legal group the Federalist Society.
Appearing for a talk at the group’s black-tie dinner held in honor of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Barrett drew laughs from a crowd of 2,500 people as she remembered the conservative giant, for whom she clerked, and told stories about life on and off the bench.
Conservative Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh were also in attendance, though Barrett –- in a nearly 40-minute fireside chat with Judge Lisa Branch of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals -– was the only one to speak at the dinner, which was held at the Washington Hilton.
Asked by Branch to share a favorite memory of the late Circuit Judge Laurence Silberman, another jurist for whom Barrett clerked, the justice remembered one of the last dinners she had with him before his passing last year. Silberman, she said, had invited his former clerks to his home for an intimate meal, where he “opened the discussion about what Ukraine’s battle strategy should be” and individually called on attendees to share their thoughts.
“He was looking for geography, weapon types. And I was just glad I wasn’t called on first,” Barrett said, drawing laughs from the audience.
“Did you offer a weapon?” Branch asked.
“I was just happy that I’d read enough that I didn’t,” the justice replied. “I just wish -– I hope I didn’t sound embarrassing.”
At one point Branch compared Scalia’s “fiery” writing to Barrett’s prose, which she said was less bombastic, and asked if she had any guiding principle for her writing tone.
“Everybody’s personality is different, and my personality, or my own style, is to be less fiery in a dissent or less fiery in a majority,” Barrett said. “So, if you’re looking at the menu and you’ve got three jalapenos, two jalapenos, and one -– I’m a more one jalapeno gal. Justice Scalia was five.”
Much of Thursday’s talk revolved around Barrett’s ascension to the Supreme Court, including her 2020 Senate confirmation hearings and how she’s adjusted to life on the high court after serving briefly as a circuit court judge.
Branch asked Barrett about a famous moment from her confirmation hearings in which she flashed a blank notepad, revealing that she hadn’t taken down any notes during the proceedings.
“Whatever happened to the infamous one? Do you still have it?” Branch asked. Barrett said that friends of hers that worked in the Senate scooped it up, had it framed in a shadowbox and gifted it to her after she was confirmed.
At times, Barrett opened up about how her family has had to adjust to her lofty position, including the security detail that often adds a layer of complexity to their childhood.
Once, she said, her teenage son found some humor in the reality of ever-present security when Barrett was teaching him to drive.
“I’m gripping the side, I’m giving too much commentary … the detail’s driving behind him,” she said, adding that the whole ordeal would’ve made her feel a self-conscious.
“He leans over and says, ‘Should I try to lose them?’” she added, causing the room to erupt into laughter.
The justice also recalled a time when she was out shopping with her daughters and a woman recognized her, causing them to hurry out of the store.
“She thanked me for my service and she told my two kids ‘Be very nice to your mom, she has a hard job.’ We get in the car and my daughter says, ‘Mom, I don’t think you really need to be like hurrying us out there. She looked very nice. She did not look like the kind of person who either had a weapon or a social media account,’” Barrett said.
Supreme Court justices saw a rise in threats following the leak of a draft majority opinion overturning Roe v. Wade last year, though Barrett didn’t address those threats specifically on Thursday.
CORRECTION: This article has been updated to correct the details of a story Justice Amy Coney Barrett told at the event. She had dinner with Judge Laurence Silberman when discussing Ukraine battle strategy.
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