When Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court occupied national headlines last month, the future Justice was lauded as a remarkable lawyer, a devout Catholic and a faithful wife and mother.
Several University of Dallas alumni were taught by Barrett at Notre Dame Law School and spoke to her character and the lessons that she taught them—lessons that often went beyond the law.
Anna Wollscheid, who graduated from UD in 2003 and from Notre Dame Law School in 2006, took three classes with Barret: Civil Procedure I and II and Evidence.
“Watching her in her confirmation hearing was like being back in class,” said Wollscheid. “She is calm and says things very matter-of-factly.”
Wollscheid described Barrett’s high expectations for her students.
“She knew her stuff really well, and she expected you to know it well,” said Wollscheid.
Like most law classes at Notre Dame, Barrett utilized the Socratic method, beginning class with lecture then asking questions that progressed in difficulty.
“She expected you to be prepared, but she wasn’t someone who was mean or cruel about it,” said Wollscheid. “If you didn’t know, she helped you out. She would lead you, guide you to the answers.”
Raph Flood, who graduated UD in 1997 with a degree in politics, went on to study under Barrett at Notre Dame Law School in 2004, following several years in sales.
Like Wollscheid, Flood took Civil Procedure with Barrett. Flood said that Barrett made it an interesting class, despite the relatively uninteresting material.
“Civil procedure is usually considered [to be] one of the more boring classes that you are required to take because it’s learning, you know, rules, versus studying a more wide body of the law,” said Flood. “But I would say that her class was very interesting.”
Likewise, Wollscheid said that Barrett made the material engaging, even playing clips of the court scenes from “My Cousin Vinny” as examples during her Evidence class.
“To be honest, legal classes are not that fun. So she did what she could to make them more fun,” said Wollscheid.
Flood and Wollscheid agreed that Barrett had a wonderful rapport with her students.
“I think the students in her class really liked her because she was clearly very, very smart. Very quick thinking, completely on top of the subject,” said Flood. “[They had] a great deal of respect for her intellect but also thought highly of her as a person.”
Flood said that Barrett knew all 90 of her student’s names.
“She did not have to look at the class list to know what your name was,” said Flood. “She could call on you at any time.”
Flood said that although she was admired by her students, her class was not easy.
“Her exam was tough, and I remember that because I remember that I did not do very well on it.
It was rigorous. You were expected to be prepared every day,” said Flood. “She was tough.”
After doing poorly on the exam, Flood visited Barrett in her office. She patiently went through each question, explaining her grading criteria and the points Flood had missed.
“I was struck because I had spoken to several professors about my exams… and I was struck by how much detail went into her grading and preparation. What it left me with was a strong impression that she was incredibly fair. Because [there] was no mistaking what I had missed on the exam,” said Flood.
As a father of four kids at the time he was in Barrett’s class, Flood said that he respected the way that she balanced her profession and her vocation as a wife and mother.
“Then, and certainly now, I would look up to her, not only because she’s really smart, obviously she is, but I knew that she was someone who was doing very well in her profession, but also a devoted parent, a devoted spouse and a fully engaged Catholic,” said Flood.
Although Wollscheid was not married until her final year of law school, she also admired the way in which Barrett spoke about the balance between her career and personal life.
“She said so many things that stuck with me, and few of them were said during class,” said Wollscheid. She would often talk with Barrett in coffee shops or hear her speak at various club meetings.
“She talked about making sure that you do balance it; that work is not your end-all and be-all, and she talked about being sure that you give back, and that you always take time for your family and for prayer,” said Wollscheid. “I think she made sure that everyone knew, and remembered, and was reminded, that her role as a wife and a mother were more important than her role as a professor and a lawyer.”
This is perhaps no clearer than in Barrett’s 2006 commencement address, which she delivered to Wollscheid’s graduating class.
In it, she encouraged the graduating class to distinguish themselves not by money or prestige, but by how they can use their careers to serve God. She offered the graduates concrete suggestions for how to live this out: pray about jobs before taking them and tithe 10% of your earnings to the poor, starting with your first paycheck. Additionally, she encouraged students to seek out a community with which to share their faith.
“Deliberately choose a parish or church that has an active community life and commit yourself
deeply to the relationships you find there. It’s only when you’re an independent operator that your career takes over. When your life is placed firmly within a web of relationships, it is much easier to keep your career in its proper place,” Barrett said in the 2006 address.
Flood and Wollscheid are two of a large pool of UD alumni who were taught by Barrett. Each recalled that there was at least one other UD student in every class while they were in law school. Wollscheid said that while she was there, UD was one of the top 10 represented undergraduate institutions at the law school, which is striking considering UD’s small student body.
Flood recalled that in a talk while Barrett was visiting Dallas, Barrett said that the UD alumni she taught were good students.
Wollscheid said the UD connection to Barrett bears witness to the power of the UD education.
“For such a small school, I think that speaks volumes about the education we receive there. We learn how to think, not just one subject, but in general. Grad schools see that, and they look for that and they seek that out. I think it’s just another example of what a great education you receive at UD, that enables you to do whatever you want to do,” said Wollscheid.
“I was just thrilled to see that she is being recognized for her brilliance, and for her character and integrity on a national level,” said Wollscheid.
Flood added that he and his friends in the law school “thought of her as a great example of living a full, Catholic life. And in her case, very much in the public eye right now. I’m certainly a great admirer of hers.”