Pearls, Pumps and Precedent in the Case of Amy Coney Barrett

In the pageantry of the Senate confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court nominee, image becomes evidence.


By Vanessa Friedman

Almost as soon as Judge Amy Coney Barrett stepped onto the public stage at the largely unmasked Rose Garden ceremony in which President Trump introduced her as his choice to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the T-shirts appeared.

Touting the jurist as “The Notorious ACB,” they featured Judge Barrett’s face atop a simple round-neck shirt — and under a crown, à la Biggie Smalls (and RBG).

And yet, as the Senate confirmation hearings have made clear, the image Judge Barrett is trying to project is pretty much the opposite of “notorious.”

Indeed, she even said, during her first day of questioning, that justices cannot “walk in like a royal queen and impose their will on the world.”

Better they walk in like the supermom next door.

Thus did Judge Barrett enter the hearing room, accessorized with a single strand of pearls and a pair of practical pumps, her just-below-shoulder-length hair neat but not the sort of sleek sheet that telegraphs “professionally styled.” Thus did she take her seat, her children arrayed behind her like a bouquet: girls in dresses, boys in suits and ties. Thus was she bathed in the rosy domestic shades of mid-last-century: magenta, red, lilac and lavender.

She may be about to ascend to the heights of legal power, ruling on cases that affect the lives of millions and shape future generations, but she does so cloaked in an image that calls to mind not the clichéd glass-ceiling breaker in a can’t-miss-me trouser suit and power pin, but rather the P.T.A.

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