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Amy Coney Barrett speaks at Northrop amid student protests

The Supreme Court justice’s presence on campus sparked controversy.

The University of Minnesota Law School’s seventh annual Robert A. Stein Lecture took place at Northrop Auditorium on Monday featuring United States Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett. 

Stein, former dean of the law school and professor, moderated the lecture as Barrett spoke about life as a current Supreme Court justice and the state of current law. 

Amy Coney Barrett speaks at Northrop Auditorium  

Barrett spoke about her relationships with other Supreme Court justices and said despite having a variety of opinions and ideas she spends a lot of time with other justices on the Court. 

“The fire gets put on the page, but it is not expressed in the interpersonal relationships we have,” Barrett said. “We eat together and spend time with each other, and when you spend time with people, it’s easy to see them as people.” 

She added Justice Antonin Scalia inspired her judicial and life philosophies, as Barrett has four children under the age of 18 and had to balance being a mother and a Supreme Court justice. 

According to Barrett, Scalia taught her to stay committed to family no matter the circumstances. 

“There would be very little difference between us if you asked about the central role of a judge – to adhere to the text when the text has a clear answer, and to not impose one’s own views on the law,” Barrett said. 

Members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) interrupted the lecture, standing up from their seats in the balcony and shouting chants. Barrett sat emotionless, looking at SDS as they were chanting. 

After being told by University officials to quiet down, they were escorted out of the auditorium by the University of Minnesota Police Department. There were no additional interruptions throughout the event. 

“Not the court, not the state, the people must decide their fate,” SDS members chanted. 

Barrett also discussed the importance of overturning Supreme Court precedent and mentioned notable Supreme Court cases, such as Brown v. Board of Education, which made the segregation of public schools unconstitutional, would not be possible without overturning precedent. 

“There’s a cost to democratic choice because people are either hindered from doing things they might want to do, or the state is prohibited from doing things that they might want to [do],” Barrett said. “Sometimes it’s important to overrule precedent because they can be costly and it can be difficult to remedy errors because the court doesn’t fix it.” 

Barrett answered questions asked by law school students as Stein read them off from a set of cards. Barrett talked about how Supreme Court justices do not allow their empathy and emotions to affect Supreme Court rulings and judges should think “with their heads, not their hearts.” 

Students protest outside Northrop

Hundreds of people gathered outside Northrop Auditorium to protest Barrett’s presence and speech at the University.

Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Minnesota Abortion Action Committee (MNAAC) organized the event. Teachers, alumni, students, workers and others came together to have their voices heard.

MNAAC and SDS distributed signs to protestors with statements like “abort the court,” “abortion is a human right” and “Amy Coney Barrett off our campus.”

Several speakers addressed abortion rights, the United Auto Workers strike, immigration rights, the Israel-Palestine conflict, climate justice and their general dissent of Barrett’s presence on campus.

Chants resounded, including “racist, sexist, anti-gay, ACB go away,” “what do we need, collective action,” and “not the church, not the state, the people must decide their fate.”

Gillian Rath, an SDS member and fourth-year student at the University, expressed satisfaction with the protest’s turnout.

“I was excited to see so many people bring their own signs and stay for a long time,” Rath said.

She added that she and eight other members of SDS disrupted Barrett’s speech and described it as scary but empowering, given the large captive audience.

“Standing up, chanting and seeing her listen was really rewarding,” Rath said.

Celia Nimz, a University alumna and SDS member, said SDS was told they would not be able to disrupt but did anyway.

“We aren’t going to sit back and take that. When they invite someone like ACB, we’re gonna stand up and disrupt, because that’s all they’ve given us,” Nimz said.

Mira Altobelle-Resendez, an SDS member and University alum, said they disagree with Barrett’s opinions and actions on the Supreme Court, and are offended by the University’s decision.

“The University likes to put out statements that it is for diversity, equity and inclusion; meanwhile, there have been great injustices done by Amy Coney Barrett,” Altobelle-Resendez said. “It shows they don’t support students that need abortion, their trans and queer students, and their undocumented students. It kind of reverses the sweet talk they put in their emails.”

Priya Kingsley, a first-year student at the University, said she came to the protest because she thinks Barrett is bigoted and has taken away the rights of many people.

“So many students have been directly affected and hurt by what ACB is doing, and the University should not support that,” Kingsley said.

Pamela Scott, a continuing-education student at the University who has been taking classes since turning 62 years old, said she came to the protest because she thinks Barrett is an illegitimate member of the Supreme Court and felt disappointed at the University for inviting her.

“I feel that she is a pretender and does not have the best interest of the United States at heart,” Scott said. “She is an incredibly divisive force in United States politics and has no business being on this campus.”

She added she wished the crowd of protestors was larger.

“I think that people in their twenties need to really be on top of this stuff,” Scott said. “I know it’s hard to stay on top of current affairs and hard to get away from your studies, it’s so important.”

She said she was struck by the image of police officers lined up on the stairs of Northrop during the protest.

“It’s very intimidating,” Scott said. “They are armed to the teeth and these are a bunch of young 20-year-olds faced with that and the University is sending the wrong message.”

Robyn Harbison, a member of the MNAAC and University of Minnesota alum, helped plan the event. As a transgender person, they said, they are demanding their basic human rights be met.

“Abortion is healthcare and it deserves to be accessible nationwide,” Harbison said. “We want people to know we are here for queer and trans rights and we always will be. We deserve better as a community.”

Harbison added the University inviting Barrett to speak showed they do not care about their students.

“It’s really a slap in the face to working-class, queer and trans students,” Harbison said.

Harbison was happy with the turnout and that people were willing to step away from work and school to protest.

“I feel really proud of everyone for turning out, especially on a Monday afternoon during the work week, and it’s really appreciated,” Harbison said. “It’s really hopeful and inspiring because together we can make a change.”

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  • Rick Naatz
    Oct 31, 2023 at 6:48 pm

    Well, this was a nice balanced example of journalism – NOT!! Would have to reread but can’t waste my time, but do not recall a quote from anyone supporting a Supreme Court Justice speaking on campus. So much for the tolerant left. As a 64 year old alumnus, I have seen the leftist bent of the UofM progress from my days as a student, to the point I no longer support the school in any manner.
    I’m sure there are still good balanced conservative and progressive staff trying to provide a quality education without the added leftist propaganda but they likely need to hide in the shadows. To those staff, I commend you and also the students that still believe in a free exchange of ideas and opinions. But for the students primarily represented in this article, the school is sucking up to you and you’re too dumb to see it. Good luck to you. Your going to need it.
    PS. Pay off all your student loans.

  • Susan Spiegel Pastin
    Oct 17, 2023 at 5:12 pm

    I’m glad there was a strong crowd outside picketing. Although I disagree with her profoundly, I am glad she was allowed to speak. Shouting down a speaker is not the answer. But she certainly earned the outside pickets!

  • Daniel
    Oct 17, 2023 at 12:18 pm

    This article poses group’s perspective and reactions to ACB being on campus. I would assume many people showed up interested to hear what she had to say. Why were none of these perspectives interviewed or included? This does not seem like balance journalistic work.

  • Deanna
    Oct 17, 2023 at 11:40 am

    It was bad enough that the campus was basically shut down for this individual, but I also feel the University wasted resources and time on an individual that lends absolutely NOTHING to the qualities of life of its student body. Classes still went on but there was no place to park. The barriers looked ridiculous. When is this campus going to own up to the fact that they know nothing of equity and women’s rights?

  • Orin R Armstrong
    Oct 17, 2023 at 11:01 am

    The article appeared because Amy Coney Barrett was speaking. The authors wrote 395 words about Ms Barret, 78 of which concerned the protesters. But the authors wrote 730 words about the protesters.

    It is newsworthy and valuable to hear the thoughts of someone who has risen to Justic Barret’s level of importance. Writing about yet another predictable and vapid protest is boring.

  • Steve Hauser
    Oct 17, 2023 at 10:06 am

    From reading the article, it appears that the Students for a Democratic Society are all for diversity as long it doesn’t involve diversity of opinion. I strongly support their right to protest. I don’t support their assertions that the U shouldn’t have invited ACB. They invited RBG, now they’ve had ACB. If that isn’t diversity, I don’t know what is.

  • Marcus Johnson
    Oct 17, 2023 at 9:44 am

    It’s truly amazing that a student at this University would be against free speech and wanting someone with a different point of view to be censored from this campus. I always envisioned college as a place to exchange various viewpoints.

  • Nah
    Oct 17, 2023 at 9:00 am

    Oh wow a bunch of annoying self righteous activists did what they always do. Shocking.
    So impressive to see children recite buzzwords they don’t understand.

  • John from Rochert
    Oct 17, 2023 at 7:49 am

    More space devoted to the whacked out protestors than to the content of the comments of the Justice. And diversity means diversity of ideas.