Shame on the Senate

If there was someone more qualified to sit on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals than Amy Coney Barrett, one would be hard pressed to find this person. Her resume was golden, serving as a law clerk for the late, great Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court before returning to her alma mater – Notre Dame – as a distinguished professor. Endorsed by prominent legal scholars, including Neal Katyal, President Obama’s acting solicitor general, President Donald Trump nominated her to fill a vacant seat on the 7th Circuit, her Senate hearing on September 6th, 2017.

What happened next brought shame upon the entire United States Senate.

I freely admit that Barrett is a conservative, originalist scholar. To Democrats, adherents of the messy and inherently inconsistent ‘Living Constitution’ approach, the nature of a young female advocate of judicial restraint is something to be avoided. Added to this is the fact President Trump appointed her, the desire of Democrats to reflexively oppose the President factors in as well. But nothing can justify the perfidy that was directed at Mrs. Barrett.

Led by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Democrats on the Judiciary Committee zeroed in on Barrett’s Catholic faith. Using the pretext of an article co-written by her when she was just a law student, titled Catholic Judges in Capital Cases that discussed how religious judges could coexist their religious views on capital punishment with their duty as impartial jurists (stating that if they could not be impartial they have a moral and ethical imperative to recuse themselves so as not to violate either conviction), the members of the minority party engaged in thinly-veiled anti-Catholic attacks. “When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” the California Democrat stated flatly. “Ms. Barrett, I think your article is very plain in your perspective about the role of religion for judges,” said Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), “and particularly with regard to Catholic judges,” misconstruing Barrett’s argument. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), the Minority Whip, asked Barrett: “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?” turning a discussion about a judicial seat into one about religious faith. “She’s been outspoken,” Durbin defended himself to reporters. “So I think she has fashioned herself somewhat of an expert and I didn’t feel uncomfortable asking that question.”

Such a line of questioning misunderstands the actual article co-written by Barrett, but she is not alone in being targeted. For expressing basic Christian thinking as his private viewpoint, OMB Deputy Director nominee Russell Vought found himself excoriated by progressive hero Sen Bernie Sanders (I-VT) over such Christian beliefs. This has become commonplace, and shameful.

Why is this shameful, one might ask? The obvious answer is found in the United States Constitution. Article VI explicitly states “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Such a line was necessary, harkening back to before the United States existed. Jonas Phillips, an American patriot and spy during the Revolutionary War, penned a letter to the Constitutional Convention about a Pennsylvania state law that forced all officeholders to swear fealty to the New Testament – as a Jew, Phillips wrote “By the above law a Jew is deprived of holding any public office or place of government.” The convention heeded Phillips’ letter and included the abovementioned clause. But here we have Senators Feinstein, Hirono, and Durbin injecting Professor Barrett’s Catholic faith to disqualify her. I find it a bit hypocritical that the same party that lambasts President Trump over what they call as a “Religious test” on Muslims entering the US (referring to the executive order that temporarily bans travelers from six unstable and hostile nations that don’t have proper vetting procedures) engage in such religious tests against Catholics and Evangelical Christians. It runs contrary to the very concept of religious freedom, where no person could be persecuted or find themselves subject to government discrimination over their chosen faith.

It isn’t hard to see why the Democrats are playing this sort of game. Textualist judges threaten the house of cards created by activist courts. But as Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) recounts on the Senate floor, there is something deeper. “The religious tests raised against Mr. Vought and Ms. Barrett do not favor one sect of Christian over another… Rather, they favor the secular, progressive creed clung to so confidently by the nation’s ruling elites… More and more, the adherents of this creed seek to use the power of government to steamroll disfavored groups—especially dissenters from their political dogmas.”

The new bigotry, installed to preserve political power, attacks the bedrock values that our nation is founded on. Shame on you Senator Feinstein, Senator Durbin, and Senator Hirono. You owe Mrs. Barrett, and the American people, your immediate contrition, and I call on my fellow classmates and colleagues to join in condemning this shameful practice. We are better than this. We should be better than this.

By Alex Behzade

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