Amy Coney Barrett's legal reasoning for dismissing a racial discrimination case

AP News has a collection of potential Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett's more questionable legal decisions. While Barrett's opening statements before the Senate stressed her concern with "the law as it's written" — as if human beings don't automatically bring their own experiences to reading and interpreting centuries-old texts anyway — her actual court record displays some pretty egregious examples of "personal interpretations."

Consider this ruling that Barrett made just last year:

Barrett wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel in 2019 that upheld the dismissal of a workplace discrimination lawsuit by Terry Smith, a Black Illinois transportation employee who sued after he was fired. Smith's claims included that he was called a racial slur by supervisor Lloyd Colbert.

"The n-word is an egregious racial epithet," Barrett wrote in Smith v. Illinois Department of Transportation. "That said, Smith can't win simply by proving that the word was uttered. He must also demonstrate that Colbert's use of this word altered the conditions of his employment and created a hostile or abusive working environment."

Barrett went on to say that Smith "introduced no evidence that Colbert's use of the n-word changed his subjective experience of the workplace. To be sure, Smith testified that his time at the Department caused him psychological distress. But that was for reasons that predated his run-in with Colbert and had nothing to do with his race. His tenure at the Department was rocky from the outset because of his poor track record."

This is a perfect example of "interpreting the law as written" — or at least, how that self-important excuse plays out in actual practice. Under Barrett's "literal" reading of the law, a one-off usage of a racial slur does not itself create a hostile work environment. The environment that lead up to, and allowed that slur to take place, is irrelevant; the case, in her interpretation, had only to do with that specific instance, and since they're "just words" they clearly cannot be indicative of larger problems. Yet, Barrett cites the plaintiff's "rocky" tenure and "poor track record" at his job — a context that exists outside of that specific instance of the racial slur in question. This, to her, is a "literal" interpretation of the law — selectively ignoring context in a way that conveniently punishes marginalized people.

This is frustratingly in line with the biased "Originalist" interpretations often employed by Barrett's mentor, Justice Scalia:

A look at Judge Amy Coney Barrett's notable opinions, votes [Associated Press]

Image: Public domain via the White House