U.S. Seventh Circuit - The FindLaw 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Judicial Nominee Barely Passes Senate Test

When somebody starts by saying, "It's not about this...," that's a big hint that it really is about that.

So it seemed for judicial nominee Amy Coney Barrett when she appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Chairman Chuck Grassley, who voted for the nominee, said he was "surprised and disheartened" by Democrats' questions involving her faith.

"Their questions strongly implied that she's too Catholic for their taste, whatever it means to be 'too Catholic,'" Grassley said.

"Too Catholic"

The committee voted 11-9 along party lines to recommend her nomination to the full Senate. If confirmed, Barrett will serve on the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Sen. Diane Feinstein, who voted against Barrett, said the nominee had no experience as a judge and very little trial experience before becoming a law professor. Feinstein said that's why committee members focused on her writings.

Barrett wrote a law review article in 1998 titled "Catholic Judges in Capital Cases." The article said judges can adhere to their church's teaching on moral issues by recusing themselves when their beliefs interfere with their jobs.

"Let me say at the outset, it was the nominee herself, in her 47-page law review article, who raised this issue of whether the teachings of the Catholic Church should have any impact on the discharge of judicial duties of a Catholic judge," Sen. Dick Durbin said.

"This Is Not a Religious Test"

Durbin said Barrett's writings warranted an inquiry about her views on the impact of religion on a judge's role. "This is not a religious test," he said.

Feinstein rejected suggestions that she was biased against Catholics, but said dogma and law are different things. She told Barrett that she was concerned "the dogma lives loudly within you."

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the challenge to Barrett was a painful reminder of when "anti-Catholic bigotry did distort our laws and civil order."

A 1997 graduate of Notre Dame Law School, Barrett spent most of her career in academia. She clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and then worked a few years in private practice before returning to teach at the Catholic law school.

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