Senators Demand No Religious Test for Judges

This week the U.S. Senate approved four judicial nominations for U.S. Courts of Appeals, including Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett, whose suitability to be a federal judge had been questioned by some Democrat senators based on her Catholic faith. In a 55-43 vote, Republicans were joined only by Democrat Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Tim Kaine (Va.), and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) in approving Barrett.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) welcomed her confirmation and said, “Professor Barrett’s experience as a distinguished law professor at the University of Notre Dame shows her qualifications to serve our nation on the federal bench. She will be an asset to our judiciary.” He noted that those opposing her had difficulty attacking her due to her significant credentials, and he was concerned with the arguments they put forward. McConnell specifically noted an article by Catholic University President John Garvey that suggested, “you have to wonder whether there isn't some other, unspoken, cause for their objection.”

“There are no religious tests for public office in this country,” said McConnell. “That’s not how we do things here.”

Other senators made similar statements, including Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who recalled questions a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts once received about how his Catholic faith might affect his fitness for office. “Quite frankly, the questions that came up of Professor Barrett were strikingly similar to the questions that were asked of Senator Kennedy when he was running to be President of the United States,” Lankford said. Referencing the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on religious tests, Lankford stated, “This should be a settled issue for us.”

At a September hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), said to Barrett, “The dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern.” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the number two Democrat leader in the chamber, also probed Barrett’s religious identity in an exchange including the question, “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?”

Vexed by this discriminatory line of questioning, NRB President & CEO Dr. Jerry A. Johnson then said, “It is outrageous that top leaders in the Democratic caucus apparently believe that some Americans are disqualified from public service based on their religious beliefs.”

Johnson added, “I urge Senate Democrat Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to take measures to snuff out such bigotry from his caucus quickly and decisively.”

Thus far, there has been no formal apology or condemnation in Congress for these and other such remarks.

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: November 3, 2017

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