After smooth confirmation hearings, Judge (now Justice) Amy Coney Barrett is breaking the ivy ceiling at the Supreme Court of the United States.
All other eight justices on the court have Ivy League law school degrees on their walls, but Barrett’s is from Notre Dame, the current capital of conservative Catholic academia, where she also served as a professor before being tapped for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals by President Donald Trump.
The White House touted Barrett’s Notre Dame pedigree in appointing her, but it also bragged about her undergraduate alma mater, Rhodes College, with a verbal faux pas few people likely caught.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany called Barrett “a Rhodes scholar,” which was inaccurate, as that moniker applies to a select group of students from around the country chosen for post-graduate study at England’s Oxford University.
But Barrett’s undergraduate connection bears more examination.
A tiny college of about 1,200 people when she attended in the early 1990s, the liberal arts school in midtown Memphis has turned out to be a cradle of sorts for today’s political leaders.
For a school that size and of that little renown, merely producing a single Supreme Court justice would be notable, which it did with Justice Abe Fortas, who graduated when it was called Southwestern at Memphis in 1930 and appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1965, resigning just four years later amid a scandal.
By reference, only the undergraduate programs of Stanford, Princeton and Cornell have produced women who’ve sat on the Supreme Court.
But Amy Coney was not the only up-and-comer roaming the quads of Rhodes College. Amber Khan, the current and first ever Muslim chairman of the Interfaith Alliance, was one class ahead of Barrett.
Before Barrett’s rise to Trump’s shortlist, the most famous Rhodes alumnus in politics was Chris Cox, a member of the class of 1992, who was CEO of the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action until 2019 and earned a prime-time speaking slot at the Republican National Convention in 2016.
The CEO of Planned Parenthood in Tennessee and North Mississippi, Ashley Brian Coffield, a former Clinton administration official, was two classes ahead of Barrett. She ran the political campaign against Tennessee’s anti-abortion constitutional amendment in 2014, and her Rhodes class of 1992 peer, Republican ad maker Brad Todd, was the lead strategist for the other side.
Todd, with whom I co-wrote a book about the conservative populist coalition that formed during the 2016 presidential election cycle, is best known for making the ads that supported the defeat of five Senate Democratic incumbents.
In Coney’s class, and in the same English department where she starred, was Matt Hardin, president of the Tennessee Trial Lawyers Association. There was also Coney classmate Robyn Thiemann, chief of staff of law enforcement at