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Democrat defends anti-Catholic questions to Trump nominee

Complaining about 'dogma' living 'loudly' inside a judicial nominee apparently isn't a 'religious litmus test' from Democrats.
Fri Sep 15, 2017 - 12:09 pm EST
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U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein questions Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett at a confirmation hearing.

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 15, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – The Democratic senator who blasted a Trump judicial nominee for being Catholic defended the appropriateness of her questions in two separate statements.

Both statements were issued to conservative website National Review, which has published a number of articles on Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, telling a Catholic Trump nominee that “the dogma lives loudly within you.”

Amy Coney Barrett, a mother of seven, is a professor at Notre Dame Law School. She has co-authored an article about ethical dilemmas for Catholic judges who oppose the death penalty in certain cases. The paper acknowledged that the Church's teaching on the death penalty is not equivalent to its teaching on abortion, because the Church says abortion is always wrong in all cases.

During confirmation hearing for Barrett, who Trump nominated to the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Sen. Dick Durbin also asked Barrett if she considers herself an “orthodox Catholic.”

Durbin, a Catholic who supports abortion and same-sex "marriage," also praised Pope Francis: "There are many people who might characterize themselves [as] orthodox Catholics who might question whether Pope Francis is an orthodox Catholic. I happen to think he’s a pretty good Catholic."

Feinstein’s questions, which seemingly directly violated the Constitution’s prohibition of a religious test for public officials, prompted the presidents of Notre Dame and Princeton University to write letters to the Senator in Barrett's defense.

“Professor Barrett has argued that a judge’s faith should affect how they approach certain cases,” Feinstein’s office told National Review. “Based on this, Senator Feinstein questioned her about whether she could separate her personal views from the law, particularly regarding women’s reproductive rights.”

Feinstein’s office provided the following justification for her questions:

Speaking to the 2006 Notre Dame Law School graduating class, Barrett said: “Your legal career is but a means to an end, and ... that end is building the kingdom of God. ... (I)f you can keep in mind that your fundamental purpose in life is not to be a lawyer, but to know, love, and serve God, you truly will be a different kind of lawyer.” Admittedly, this is about lawyers and not about judges, but it speaks to her views on a legal career in general. In a December 2015 piece for the University of Notre Dame Alumni Association, Barrett wrote that “(l)ife is about more than the sum of our own experiences, sorrows, and successes. It’s about the role we play in God’s ever-unfolding plan to redeem the world.” She continued: “That sounds lofty, but it’s about taking the long view. Do we see success through the eyes of our contemporaries, or through the eyes of God? Do we focus only on what God does for us, or also on what God can do for others through us.” And this is a line from Catholic Judges in Capital Cases that indicates that Barrett believes religion should affect an individual judge’s decisions vis-à-vis capital cases, even as it confirms she doesn’t believe religion should impact our overall legal system. “Judges cannot — nor should they try to — align our legal system with the Church’s moral teaching whenever the two diverge. They should, however, conform their own behavior to the Church’s standard. Perhaps their good example will have some effect.” (Emphases added by Feinstein’s office.)

Apparently, Feinstein took issue with Barrett saying Catholic judges should “conform their own behavior to the Church’s standard” even though she doesn’t think they should “align our legal system with the Church’s moral teaching whenever the two diverge.”

Feinstein then provided National Review with a fuller statement, denying she was applying a “religious litmus test” to Barrett:

I have never and will never apply a religious litmus test to nominees — nominees of all religious faiths are capable of setting aside their religious beliefs while on the bench and applying the Constitution, laws and Supreme Court precedents. However, I try to scrutinize nominees’ records to understand whether they are committed to being impartial and whether they can faithfully apply precedent.

Professor Amy Barrett is nominated to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals — a very important position. She has no judicial experience so senators have had to rely on her writings and public statements to determine the type of judge she would be.

Professor Barrett wrote an article, Catholic Judges in Capital Cases, where she suggested that a judge’s faith might affect their ability to rule in certain cases. In that article, she wrote in part that “litigants and the general public are entitled to impartial justice, and that may be something that a judge who is heedful of ecclesiastical pronouncements cannot dispense.” She also suggested that judges don’t necessarily have to follow precedent that conflicts with the original public meaning of the Constitution. Senators must inquire about these issues when considering lifetime appointments because ensuring impartiality and fidelity to precedent are critical for the rule of law.

"I have read that article, and I believe that the views expressed in it are fully consistent with a judge’s obligation to uphold the law and the Constitution," Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber wrote in Barrett’s defense. "As a university president committed to free speech, academic freedom, and religious pluralism, I must add that, in my view, Professor Barrett’s qualifications become stronger by virtue of her willingness to write candidly and intelligently about difficult and sensitive ethical questions."

Father John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., the president of Notre Dame, said in his letter to Feinstein that her anti-Catholic questioning was “chilling."

Jenkins pointed out that Barrett said she'd follow legal precedent and "in rare cases in which her conscience would not allow her to do so, she would recuse herself."

"It is chilling to hear from a United States Senator that this might now disqualify someone from service as a federal judge," he wrote. "I ask you and your colleagues to respect those in whom 'dogma lives loudly' — which is a condition we call faith. For the attempt to live such faith while one upholds the law should command respect, not evoke concern."

Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, who heads religious liberty efforts for the U.S. bishops, said Feinstein’s remarks are evocative of a time when Catholics openly faced bigotry for their faith.

“Such questions … sadly, harken back to a time in our country when anti-Catholic bigotry did distort our laws and civil order,” said Lori. “These comments are a reminder that we must remain vigilant against latent bigotries that may still infect our national soul.”

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput pointed out that Feinstein’s extreme support for abortion is the “dogma” that lives loudly within her.

“The senator worried to Barrett that “dogma lives loudly in you” – this, from a person whose dogmatic decibel level on abortion ‘rights’ could break windows,” Chaput wrote.

“A great many faithful Christians still do let their convictions ‘live loudly’ in their hearts and actions,” Chaput concluded. “It’s called witness. What it takes is a little courage. So maybe they — and all the rest of us who seek to follow Jesus Christ — should turn up the volume.”


  amy coney barrett, anti-catholic bigotry, catholic, constitution, dianne feinstein, dick durbin, dogma, religious litmus test

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