Michael Gerson on Dianne Feinstein’s “ignorance of religion itself”

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Washington Post commentator Michael Gerson has joined the list of Dianne Feinstein critics.  In case you are not up to speed, Feinstein appears to have shown anti-Catholic bias in her recent questioning of federal court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.  She may have also violated Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.

We have posted on this case here and here and here and here.

Gerson writes:

Where to start? How about with the fact that Feinstein’s line of questioning was itself a violation of the Constitution? Here is constitutional scholar and Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber: “By prohibiting religious tests, the Constitution makes it impermissible to deny any person a national, state or local office on the basis of their religious convictions or lack thereof. Because religious belief is constitutionally irrelevant to the qualifications for a federal judgeship, the Senate should not interrogate any nominee about those beliefs. I believe, more specifically, that the questions directed to professor Barrett about her faith were not consistent with the principle set forth in the Constitution’s ‘no religious test’ clause.”

How about Feinstein’s indifference to the sordid history of anti-Catholic bias? “Feinstein leapt past 20th-century suspicions of Catholic allegiances,” legal scholar John Inazu told me, “to 19th-century bigotry toward Catholic identity: Who you are as a Catholic is ‘of concern.’ ”

How about Feinstein’s ignorance of religion itself? In defending her animus, she called particular attention to Barrett’s statement that Christians should be “building the kingdom of God.” That would be the kingdom that Jesus insisted is “not of this world,” much to the confusion of 1st-century politicians. It is a description of transformed hearts, not a prescription for theocracy.

Read the entire piece here.

Noah Feldman Calls Diane Feinstein’s Anti-Catholic Questions an “Outrage”

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Noah Feldman, Harvard law professor and Director of the Julius-Rabinowitz Program on Jewish and Israeli Law, is the latest to criticize Dianne Feinstein for her questioning of Trump appellate court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.  He joins Princeton president Christopher Eisgruber and Notre Dame president John Jenkins.

Here is a taste of Feldman’s piece at Bloomberg:

Senator Dianne Feinstein owes a public apology to judicial nominee Amy Coney Barrett — and an explanation to all Americans who condemn religious bias. During Barrett’s confirmation hearings last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Feinstein, the California Democrat, insinuated an anti-Catholic stereotype that goes back at least 150 years in the U.S. — that Catholics are unable to separate church and state because they place their religious allegiances before their oath to the Constitution.

If a Catholic senator had asked a Jewish nominee whether she would put Israel before the U.S., or if a white senator had asked a black nominee if she could be an objective judge given her background, liberals would be screaming bloody murder. Feinstein’s line of questioning, which was taken up by other committee Democrats, is no less an expression of prejudice.

The thrust of Feinstein’s questioning was that, as a believing Catholic, Barrett couldn’t be trusted to apply the Constitution and laws objectively should she be confirmed to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Feinstein repeatedly used a term with a long history as a dog whistle for anti-Catholicism in America: dogma. “The dogma lives loudly within you,” Feinstein asserted. She went on: “Dogma and law are two different things. I think whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different.”

And the senator topped it off with a classic form of bias: the irrefutable imputation. “Why is it that so many of us on this side have this very uncomfortable feeling?” she asked.

The word “dogma” that Feinstein deployed is specifically connected to the Protestant critique of Catholicism, and to its particularly nasty American version. A dogma is an article of faith laid down by an authority. One of the classic Protestant polemical attacks on Catholicism was the allegation that Catholics are obligated to believe what the church teaches them is incontrovertibly true, whereas Protestants are called on to form their own beliefs on the basis of individual faith and judgment.

Read the entire piece here.

I think this is less a case of Feinstein trying to deliberately practice anti-Catholicism and more a sign that she is clueless on these matters.  This is sad coming from a Stanford history major.  Having said, Feinstein does not seem to have learned her lessons well at Stanford, as evidenced by this exchange with Eric Foner.

Notre Dame President: “Dogma Lives Loudly”

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You may recall our recent post on Princeton University president Christopher L. Eisgruber’s criticism of the Democratic Senators who may have violated Article VI of the Constitution in their questioning of University of Notre Dame Professor Amy Barrett during her recent confirmation hearings for a federal judgeship.

Over the last several days, a host of smart people have joined Eisgruber in his criticism of Diane Feinstein, Dick Durbin, and Al Franken.  The latest is Notre Dame president John Jenkins.  Here is the bulk of his letter to Feinstein:

Dear Senator Feinstein:

Considering your questioning of my colleague Amy Coney Barrett during the judicial confirmation hearing of September 6, I write to express my confidence in her competence and character, and deep concern at your line of questioning.

Professor Barrett has been a member of our faculty since 2002, and is a graduate of our law school. Her experience as a clerk for Judge Laurence Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is of the highest order. So, too, is her scholarship in the areas of federal courts, constitutional law and statutory interpretation. I am not a legal scholar, but I have heard no one seriously challenge her impeccable legal credentials.

Your concern, as you expressed it, is that “dogma lives loudly in [Professor Barrett], and that is a concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.” I am one in whose heart “dogma lives loudly,” as it has for centuries in the lives of many Americans, some of whom have given their lives in service to this nation. Indeed, it lived loudly in the hearts of those who founded our nation as one where citizens could practice their faith freely and without apology.

Professor Barrett has made it clear that she would “follow unflinchingly” all legal precedent and, in rare cases in which her conscience would not allow her to do so, she would recuse herself. I can assure you that she is a person of integrity who acts in accord with the principles she articulates.

It is chilling to hear from a United States Senator that this might now disqualify someone from service as a federal judge. 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.

Many people have defended the Senators’ line of questioning, including some of the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  They say that if the faith of a religious judge is going to result in taking away the rights of others, then asking questions about religious belief is perfectly fair.  Some can get quite passionate about it.  But the bottom line is this:  The people who have interpreted this line of questioning as a possible violation of Article VI are no intellectual slouches. They also represent, to one degree or another, a significant portion of the American electorate.

This debate over religious liberty and test oaths reveals the deep divide in this country right now.  What makes this so intense is the fact that both sides of the debate appeal to American ideals–religious liberty, individual rights, and the disestablishment of religion, to name only a few.  I am not sure how these social issues can be resolved as long as people like Franken, Durbin, Feinstein, Sanders, the authors of the Nashville Statement, the court evangelicals, and many others continue to dig-in their heels.

Princeton University’s President on the Democrats’ Religious Tests for Public Office

I saw this today at Alan Jacobs’s blog Snakes and Ladders:

I write, as a university president and a constitutional scholar with expertise on religious freedom and judicial appointments, to express concern about questions addressed to Professor Amy Barrett during her confirmation hearings and to urge that the Committee on the Judiciary refrain from interrogating nominees about the religious or spiritual foundations of their jurisprudential views. Article VI of the United States Constitution provides explicitly that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” This bold endorsement of religious freedom was among the original Constitution’s most pathbreaking provisions. The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Torcaso v. Watkins (1961), holding that the First and Fourteenth Amendments render this principle applicable to state offices and that it protects non-believers along with believers of all kinds, is among the greatest landmarks in America’s jurisprudence of religious freedom. Article VI’s prohibition of religious tests is a critical guarantee of equality and liberty, and it is part of what should make all of us proud to be Americans.

By prohibiting religious tests, the Constitution makes it impermissible to deny any person a national, state, or local office on the basis of their religious convictions or lack thereof. Because religious belief is constitutionally irrelevant to the qualifications for a federal judgeship, the Senate should not interrogate any nominee about those beliefs. I believe, more specifically, that the questions directed to Professor Barrett about her faith were not consistent with the principle set forth in the Constitution’s “no religious test” clause.

Source

 

Here is Al Franken:

I should add that the Blackstone Legal Fellowship has an advisory board that includes law professors from  University of Texas, University of Nebraska, Harvard (Mary Ann Glendon), Princeton (Robert George), and Notre Dame.

Here is Diane Feinstein:

Here is Dick Durbin:

And let’s not forget Bernie Sanders from earlier this year:

Here is Emma Green’s reporting on this at The Atlantic.