(Quin Hillyer, Liberty Headlines) After complaints from conservative movement leaders about U.S. Senate inactivity, the Senate is moving resolutely this week to confirm a series of President Trump’s judicial nominees, including one that Democrats had tried to block because she dared to express faithful Catholicism.
In all, the Senate is expected to confirm five nominees either this week or very early next week, and the Judiciary Committee next week is expected to approve five others that then will be sent to the full Senate for confirmation. Of the first five either already or soon to be confirmed by the full Senate, four are nominees to powerful circuit appeals courts.
Two of those five already have been confirmed as of this writing. One is Trevor McFadden, approved for a district court judgeship in Washington D.C. The other is the one attacked for her Catholicism, Notre Dame Law Professor Amy Coney Barrett, who now will join the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees cases in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.
During committee consideration of Barrett’s nomination in September, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein alleged, disapprovingly, that Barrett’s record indicates 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.”
Feinstein also called Barrett “controversial” because she supposedly has “a long history of believing that your religious beliefs should prevail.”
This was at least the third time Feinstein had raised objections to the Catholic faith of nominees. In 2003, she criticized nominee William Pryor of Alabama for quoting St. Thomas Aquinas in a commencement address to his Catholic alma mater; And in 2005 she wondered aloud if John Roberts, nominated to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, would “address the issues of conscience out of a focus on the national interests, not out of adherence to the dictates of [your] religion.”
Feinstein was hardly the only Democrat to make an issue of Barrett’s faith, as if traditionalist faith is somehow a disqualification for office. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Richard Durbin of Illinois, Al Franken of Minnesota (less directly), and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii specifically worried about Barrett’s faith-based values, with Hirono repeatedly asserting to Barrett that “what you believe the role of religion was” seemed to run afoul of some supposed standard of judging.
All of these questions stemmed largely from a law review article Barrett wrote years ago in which she said that if, in a rare case, a judge feels something in a case somehow disallows her from ruling impartially because of her faith, then the judge might need to recuse herself from that case – which, of course, is just the opposite of somehow allowing a faith conflict to unfairly affect her judging.
After the smoke cleared, though, the Senate finally confirmed Barrett, a professor with a reputation for brilliance, in a 55-43 vote on Tuesday evening.
The same evening, the Senate voted to limit debate on Joan Larsen, a Michigan Supreme Court justice who is a nominee for the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. That move sets the stage for Larsen to be confirmed on Wednesday. As he did with Barrett, Sen. Whitehouse had suggested that Larsen’s faith beliefs would somehow harm her ability to be a fair-minded judge. To suggest otherwise, he said, is “so preposterous as to be silly.”
After Larsen (presumably) is confirmed, the Senate is expected to approve Colorado Supreme Court Justice Allison Eid and Penn State law professor Stephanos Bibas to the 10th and 3rd circuits, respectively.
The confirmations earned praise and celebrations not just from conservatives but also from liberal-leaning Catholic leaders (and of course conservative ones, too) who had been stunned and upset by the Democrats’ line of questioning.
“The full Senate rejected their attempt to hang a ‘Catholics need not apply’ sign outside the Senate chamber when it considers candidates to the judiciary. We applaud the Senate’s rejection of anti-Catholic bigotry and confirmation of Amy Barrett’s nomination to the 7th Circuit court of appeals,” said Legal Advisor Andrea Picciotti-Bayer of the Catholic Association.”
Conservative U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas also celebrated the confirmations even though “today in this Senate, we have seen repeatedly nominees grilled not for their qualifications, not for their record, but for their faith.”
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who had come under fire from conservatives for not advancing judicial nominees quickly enough, had said earlier in the week that he was proud to move the nominees forward.
“By confirming these nominees, we can take a big step toward restoring our nation’s courts to their proper role: interpreting and applying the law based on what it actually says, not what a judge wishes it might say,” he explained.
Conservatives repeatedly have credited McConnell for his leadership in keeping a Supreme Court seat open during the entire election year of 2016, rather than let then-President Barack Obama fill it. The result was that President Trump was able to appoint the highly regarded Neil Gorsuch to the nation’s top court.