Senator Josh Hawley spent his opening statements focusing on religious liberty and the Constitutional ban on religious tests for public office during Monday’s judicial confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
“I would just say to my Democrat colleagues,” Hawley said, “that these years now, this pattern in practice as we say in the law…the pattern in practice of bigotry from members of this committee must stop. And I would expect that it would be renounced.”
Hawley was referring to the anti-Catholic line of questioning that Democrats have engaged in recent years through the confirmation processes of various judges, included current Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.
Barrett has faced scrutiny from members of the Senate, from the press, and from the public at large for her Catholic faith since being nominated to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017.
In 2017, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D – CA) asked Barrett about following Supreme Court precedent when it conflicts with the original intent of the Constitution. Barrett replied that she would follow precedent as a judge. But Feinstein would not be deterred.
“Dogma and law are two different things,” Feinstein said, “and I think whatever a religion is, it has its own dogmas. The law is totally different. And I think in your case, Professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country.”
In the same 2017 hearings, Senator Durbin (D – IL) referenced an article Barrett wrote in 1998 about a Catholic judge’s responsibility when handling death penalty cases in which the law conflicts with their religious beliefs.
“You use a term in that article,” Durbin said, ” – or, you both use a term in that article – I’d never seen before. You refer to ‘orthodox Catholics’. What’s an orthodox Catholic?”
Barrett explained the term: “What that term was designed to capture – because we were talking about conscientious objection – was a judge who accepted the Church’s teaching that the death penalty would be impermissible in that case.”
The conclusion of Barrett’s paper, as described in its abstract, was that in certain situations, the best decision for a judge would be to recuse himself from a case which would put the judge at odds with his religious faith in the law’s enforcement.
Durbin then asked Barrett, “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?”
“I am a Catholic, Senator Durbin,” said Barrett. “If you’re asking whether I take my faith seriously, and I’m a faithful Catholic, I am. Although, I would stress that my personal Church affiliation or my religious belief would not bear on the discharge of my duties as a judge.”
Barrett hasn’t been the only one whose faith has been placed under scrutiny by members of the Senate. During the 2018 confirmation hearings of judicial nominee Brian Buescher, Senators Kamala Harris (now Joe Biden’s running mate) and Maize Hirono (D – HI) centered their questioning around Buescher’s association with the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternity.
They asked if Buescher was aware of the association’s opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion – positions in line with the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations.
In yesterday’s opening statements, Senator Hawley called these lines of questioning by Democrat Senators “an attempt to bring back the religious test” explicitly forbidden by Article VI of the United States Constitution.
The Founders’ design, Hawley argued, was to ensure that people would be free in conscience and belief from the approval or veto of a ruling class, and that they would be free to bring those beliefs to bear in the public sphere.
“This bedrock principle of American liberty is now under attack. That is what is at stake when we read these stories attacking Judge Barrett for her faith. That is what is at stake when my Democratic colleagues repeatedly question Judge Barrett and many other judicial nominees about their religious beliefs…”
“Judge Barrett is a Catholic. We all know that. She’s a devout Catholic. We all know that. She and her husband have chosen to raise their family according to their Catholic beliefs in faithful fellowship with other Catholics. We all know that. Heck, 65 million Americans are Catholics and many, many millions more are Christians of other persuasions. Are they to be told that they cannot serve in public office? That they are not welcome in the public sphere unless the members of this committee sign off on their religious beliefs? I for one do not want to live in such an America, and the Constitution of the United States flatly prohibits it.”
Hawley’s entire statements are worth watching in full: