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Amy Coney Barrett – education related case opinions

Education Week and The 74 Million |

Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump’s pick to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.

During her time on the 7th Circuit, Barrett has joined opinions involving public school bus transportation for private schools, the exemption from anti-discrimination laws for religious school teachers, free speech for a school administrator, special education, and discrimination under Title IX.


Barrett wrote the opinion for a 3-0 panel of the 7th Circuit that revived a lawsuit by a male student at the West Lafayette, Ind., university over its adjudication of sexual violence charges against him.

The decision revived the student’s 14th Amendment due process of law and Title IX claims, part of a trend among federal appeals courts in favor of greater procedural protections in how colleges handle such claims.

The student identified as John Doe denied the charges, but he was suspended from Purdue’s Naval ROTC program while the university investigated and pursued its disciplinary process. John faced a discipline panel that asked accusatory questions and refused to allow him to present witnesses. His accuser did not appear before the panel, which reviewed her written allegations. The university found Doe guilty of sexual violence by a preponderance of the evidence and suspended him from the institution for one year. Doe was discharged from the ROTC program and lost his related scholarship.

Doe’s lawsuit was dismissed by a federal district court. The 7th Circuit panel revived both his due process and Title IX claims.

Discussing John Doe’s due process claim, Barrett referred to a landmark Supreme Court decision on discipline in K-12 education. In Goss v. Lopez, in 1975, the court held that K-12 students facing suspension have property and liberty interests in their education under the due-process clause. Even a suspension of 10 days or less requires certain minimal procedural protections, and greater punishments would require more under the decision.

Doe had a liberty interest in his ROTC participation, Barrett said, and he was entitled to “relatively formal procedures, yet Purdue’s process fell short of what even a high school must provide to a student facing a days-long suspension,” Barrett said. “John received notice of Jane’s allegations and denied them, but Purdue did not disclose its evidence to John. And withholding the evidence on which it relied in adjudicating his guilt was itself sufficient to render the process fundamentally unfair.”

As for Doe’s Title IX claim, Barrett said Purdue’s process was influenced by a 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter issued by the U.S. Department of Education that “ushered in a more rigorous approach to campus sexual misconduct allegations.”

Barrett said a key administrator and the disciplinary panel were biased in favor of the female accuser and against John Doe. “Taken together, John’s allegations raise a plausible inference that he was denied an educational benefit on the basis of his sex,” Barrett concluded.

Read the full opinion.


Barrett joined an unsigned, 3-0 panel decision against a Hebrew-language teacher in her disability-discrimination lawsuit against a Jewish day school. The school raised the defense of the “ministerial exception,” which the Supreme Court recognized in a 2012 case in holding that churches were exempt from anti-discrimination claims by their ministers. The high court did not clearly say at that time whether all religious school teachers were covered by the exception.

The 7th Circuit panel held that the ministerial exception applied to the Hebrew-language teacher because Hebrew teachers at the school were expected to follow a unified Hebrew and Jewish studies curriculum and to integrate religious teachings into their lessons.

Read the full opinion.


Barrett was in the majority in a 2-1 ruling that rejected a key claim by a private religious school challenging disparate transportation requirements for public and private schools. St. Joan Antida High School challenged its exclusion from a Milwaukee school district program offering bus transportation to private school pupils.

The 7th Circuit panel rejected the school’s claims that its exclusion from the transportation program violated the 14th Amendment’s equal-protection clause. The court sent a separate claim over a deadline for a roster of private school students who needed bus transportation back to a lower court for further fact-finding. The dissenting judge would have found that the transportation program discriminated against the private school.

Read the full opinion.

P.F., a minor, by A.F., his parent, et al., v. CAROLYN STANFORD TAYLOR, State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Barrett joined a 3-0 decision that rejected the claims of a group of students with disabilities whose applications to transfer to other school districts under Wisconsin’s open-enrollment law were denied because the nonresident districts said they could not meet the students’ special needs.

One student in the suit had applied to transfer from the Milwaukee district to a suburban district and his application was accepted, court papers say. But once the district found out that the student had an individualized education program under federal special education law, it withdrew the student’s acceptance, the suit alleged.

The panel held that the state open-enrollment program’s requirement that nonresident school districts have the excess capacity to meet the needs of transferring students was a fundamental component and thus the students’ claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 failed.

Read the full opinion.


In a public education case, Barrett joined a 3-0 panel decision that upheld a $400,000 jury award to an Illinois school superintendent whose contract was not renewed amid turmoil that started with her effort to have an audit of district finances. 

The superintendent alleged that a school board member threatened her, and she filed a police report. After she suspended the district’s business manager, the board did not renew her contract.

The superintendent sued, alleging retaliation in violation of the First Amendment and won the large jury award. On appeal, the 7th Circuit panel rejected the school district’s arguments that the filing of the police report was a personal grievance, not speech on a matter of public concern that was protected by the First Amendment.

The 7th Circuit opinion said the superintendent’s police report went well beyond a personal grievance under the facts of the case, and thus the jury’s finding was reasonable. But the court also suggested that the district could have raised a defense that the superintendent’s speech was job-related, which would have meant it was not protected under Supreme Court precedent. But the district had failed to raise that argument.

Read the full opinion.

As a law clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia

Barrett served as a law clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia in the 1998-99 term, when the Supreme Court heard arguments in two important education cases. In one, Scalia joined the majority that ruled that federal special education law required a school district to provide a student who depended on a ventilator with full-time nursing services in school. In another, Scalia was in dissent in a decision that school districts could be sued under Title IX when they were deliberately indifferent to student-on-student sexual harassment.

Barrett grew up in Metairie, Louisiana, graduating from St. Mary’s Dominican High School, a Catholic girls school in New Orleans. She studied English literature at Rhodes College in Memphis, and went to law school at the University of Notre Dame.

Barrett is a member of People of Praise organization, which runs Trinity Schools — a network of nondenominational Christian schools and has served as a trustee for Trinity School at Greenlawn in Indiana.

She has taught at the University of Notre Dame and served as a law clerk to the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Barrett is currently a Chicago-based federal appeals court judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.

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