7th Circuit declines to answer Barrett COVID diagnosis questions

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News in recent days that Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals this summer had COVID-19 was overwhelmed by President Donald Trump’s diagnosis and hospitalization, and a 7th Circuit spokesman said Tuesday the court would have no comment on Barrett’s earlier case.

Barrett and her husband reportedly contracted coronavirus earlier this year and recovered, according to two Trump administration officials who were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

As Barrett’s confirmation to the highest court in the land remains scheduled to begin Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, details surrounding her diagnosis remain scant. Last week’s AP report citing White House officials was the first apparent public disclosure of Barrett’s diagnosis. It came several days after Barrett’s nomination by Trump at a Rose Garden ceremony after which numerous attendees were diagnosed with the disease.

Seventh Circuit administrator Collins Fitzpatrick said Tuesday he couldn’t answer questions about when Barrett was diagnosed, whether she disclosed her diagnosis, whether she quarantined, or whether she heard or decided cases during the time she tested positive.

“The bottom line is, I can’t help you,” Fitzpatrick said in a phone call, citing health privacy concerns. “An individual can disclose what they want, but it’s up to the individual.” Barrett’s chambers could not be reached, and the clerk’s office refused to transfer an IL phone call or forward emailed questions to Barrett’s chambers.

As to whether a judge would be under any obligation to report a COVID infection, Fitzpatrick said there were no such obligations, offering an analogy: “We don’t have an obligation for anyone who has a heart attack to tell us.” When pressed about common safeguards because of the highly contagious nature of COVID, Fitzpatrick offered that a judge who has tuberculosis likewise would have no obligation to report.

Barrett also is a professor at the University of Notre Dame, but the university would have been without students at the time of her reported diagnosis. A Notre Dame spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday.

Barrett’s lack of disclosure is in contrast to Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush, who, upon a recent diagnosis of COVID, announced her positive test publicly on Sept. 14, as well as the steps she was taking to quarantine and safeguard court staff.

The Indiana Supreme Court provided a statement Tuesday updating Rush’s condition. “Chief Justice Rush has now tested negative for COVID-19,” the statement said. “She is continuing to work remotely. On September 24 she joined her colleagues for the 9 a.m. remote oral argument and made very brief remarks just after the one-minute mark related to her recovery. She is under the care of a doctor and is grateful to be on a continued path of recovery.”

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