A look at a SCOTUS nominee’s time at a Tennessee college

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Lie, cheat or steal at Rhodes College, and the case could make its way to the student-run Honor Council. The group reviews infractions like cheating and plagiarizing and can levy a range of punishments, up to expulsion.

In 1994, her senior year at the private liberal arts college in Memphis, Amy Coney Barrett was elected to the council and served as its vice president. At the time, the council would hear cases within the week of the infraction being reported; trials lasted between 30 minutes and the full day.

For one case, Barrett (then just Amy Coney) deliberated until 3 a.m. She slept for three hours, woke up and began deliberating again. Rhodes students took the code seriously — a survey at the time found that of the respondents, 88% of faculty and 92% of students found the code “somewhat or very effective” — and so did she.

Barrett told as much to a reporter for a story in the college’s magazine, published in 1994: “Presumed honest: A way of life at Rhodes” explores how the Honor Code became a culture.

“The toughest part about being on the Honor Council,” Barrett said in 1994, “is the heavy responsibility. You have the power to affect someone’s life. You want to be absolutely sure you’re doing the right thing by that person.”

Barrett, now a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, entered Rhodes College personally influenced by her parents’ careers — her mother had been a French teacher, her father the first lawyer she’d ever known — and practically influenced by their life circumstances.

It was her time in Memphis at Rhodes College that put her on the path that would later qualify her for a lifetime appointment to the highest court.

“In my mind, I thought the two coolest things to be would be a high school French teacher or English teacher or a lawyer. But,” Barrett said in a 2019 interview, “I was heavily leaning towards high school teacher, not law, until later in the game.”


Barrett chose Rhodes College, she explained in the 2019 interview at the University of Notre Dame, because it wasn’t too far from home — a six-hour stretch of I-55 separates Memphis from hometown Metairie, a New Orleans suburb. She’d been awarded a scholarship, too, which helped since her six younger siblings were enrolled in private schools at the time. A graduate of St. Mary’s Dominican High School, an all-girls Catholic school in New Orleans, Barrett kept up her grandmother and mother’s tradition of going to the school, one kept up now by her nieces.

At Rhodes, she wanted to read, write and conquer an A-minus she’d once gotten in French. So she declared a major in English, minor in French. By the end of her first semester of college, she found a mentor in professor Jennifer Brady, who would later describe Barrett as one of the two top students of her 36-year career,