In a wide-ranging interview at the University of Minnesota that was disrupted temporarily by demonstrators, the justice said that ethics rules would help with greater public transparency.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett said on Monday that she favored an ethics code for the Supreme Court, joining the growing chorus of justices who have publicly backed adopting such rules.
“It would be a good idea for us to do it, particularly so that we can communicate to the public exactly what it is that we are doing in a clearer way,” she said during a wide-ranging conversation at the University of Minnesota Law School with Robert Stein, a longtime law professor and the former chief operating officer of the American Bar Association.
Addressing a full auditorium that seats more than 2,600 people, Justice Barrett added that “all nine justices are very committed to the highest standards of ethical conduct.” But she said she could not speak for the court on a timeline, or precisely what such a code might look like.
The justices have faced intense pressure over their ethics practices in recent months after revelations that some had failed to report gifts and luxury travel. That includes Justice Clarence Thomas, who repeatedly took lavish trips with Harlan Crow, a Texas billionaire and conservative donor, and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who flew on the private jet of Paul Singer, a hedge fund billionaire who frequently has had business before the court.
There was a heavy security presence at the event on Monday, held on the leafy campus in Minneapolis, including sweeps with police dogs and rows of metal barricades.
Demonstrators interrupted shortly after the conversation began. As Justice Barrett spoke, a handful of people in a balcony stood up and unfurled banners, nodding to her vote to overturn the landmark ruling Roe v. Wade and end a constitutional right to an abortion after nearly 50 years. One sign read, “Abort the court” in black letters.
“Not the court, not the state, people must decide their fate!” they chanted. Law enforcement officers escorted the group from the auditorium.
Several questions by Mr. Stein alluded to Justice Barrett’s role in solidifying a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. But the justice painted an image of the court as a collegial place, regardless of how vehemently they disagreed in their written opinions.
“The fire gets put on the page, but it is not expressed in interpersonal relationships,” she said. “We are in the building with each other. Justices have lunch every day that we have oral argument and every day after conference.”
Pointing out that the justice was one of four women on the court, Mr. Stein asked whether they “get together” for any reason. Justice Barrett laughed.
The companionship of the other women on the court was delightful, she said, adding: “I don’t think that my perspective — or that anybody’s perspective — is different just by virtue of being a woman.”
Justice Barrett described throwing a welcome party for Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the newest justice and the first Black woman on the court. After some sleuthing, Justice Barrett said she discovered her colleague’s love of the musical “Hamilton” and hired a Broadway actor to serenade her.
She said Justice Sonia Sotomayor showed Justice Barrett kindness from her first moments at the court, making Halloween candy bags for her children days after she was confirmed in October 2020.
When Mr. Stein pointed out that Justice Barrett, who has seven children, “may be the first mother with minor children to serve on the court,” she replied that she probably faced the same struggles as most working mothers.
She mentioned missing a lunch with the other justices because of a child care issue. She said her evenings were often spent at volleyball games or other events for her children and that she recently volunteered to serve hot lunches at one child’s school.
Still, she said, the contrast between her personal and professional life can be surreal.
One morning, her 11-year-old son, Benjamin, who has Down syndrome, asked to listen to the 2000 hit song “Who Let the Dogs Out” while waiting for the school bus. Hours later, Justice Barrett described walking into the grandeur of the Supreme Court, past the portraits of justices who have preceded her — “these dignified men” — with her son’s choice of song stuck in her head.
As the talk neared the end, Mr. Stein bluntly asked Justice Barrett if she enjoyed being on the court.
“It has its ups and downs,” she said to laughter from the audience. “Enjoying myself isn’t quite the right word that I would use. But it’s a privilege to serve, and I have no regrets about undertaking the service.”
She added that she struggled with the real-world consequences of the court’s rulings. She recalled announcing from the bench a unanimous decision that denied a disability benefit to a military veteran and having to look service members in the eyes as she did so. The death penalty decisions also weigh heavily on her, she said.
But, she added, “It’s your head, not your heart that has to make the decisions, but you should never lose sight of the fact that your decisions affect real people, and you should never lose your heart.”