During a hearing of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominee, Prof. Amy Coney Barrett, before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 6, Democratic Sens. Diane Feinstein of California and Dick Durbin of Illinois peppered the her with questions about her religious faith and how it would allegedly affect her judgment on the bench. Feinstein at one point said, "When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you." She added, "And that's of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country."
For his part, Durbin called on Barrett to define what an "orthodox Catholic" and asked her: “Are you an orthodox Catholic." Barrett answered: "I am a Catholic."
"Dogma and law are two different things," Feinstein said. "And I think whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different." Barrett said that she would abide by all precedent and that her writings on the subject actually explain that Catholic judges who find a conflict between their religious views and a specific case need to step aside from that case. "It's never appropriate for a judge to impose that judge's personal convictions, whether they arise from faith or anywhere else, on the law," Barrett said. It was not clear whether Feinstein had actually read Barrett’s opinions.
Commenting on Barrett’s grilling by the Democrats, renowned law professor Robert P. George of Princeton said that Feinstein has shown her “true colors” and should therefore “resign.” He said that Catholics should not "tolerate liberal bigotry." In a tweet on September 8, George wrote: "This is disgusting. Catholics should not tolerate liberal bigotry a moment longer. Sen. Fenstein, you've shown your true colors. Resign!"
The president of Princeton University, Christopher L. Eisgruber, wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee and stressed the contents of the US Constitution, which states in Article VI, Section 3 that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." Identifying himself as a constitutional scholar and expert on religious freedom and judicial appointments, Eisgruber wrote that he wanted “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."
Eisgruber wrote in his letter that "Because religious belief is constitutionally irrelevant to the qualifications for a federal judgeship, the Senate should not interrogate any nominee about those beliefs." He said furthermore, "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."
"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," states the letter. Barrett "and other nominees ought in any event to be evaluated on the basis of their professional ability and jurisprudential philosophy, not their religion."
Barrett is a professor at Notre Dame Law School and was once a clerk for Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. She was nominated by Trump for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Indiana.
Another academic who rose to Barrett’s defense was University of Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins. In his letter, which he wrote directly to Feinstein, taking issue with her statement that Barrett’s worldview is driven by "dogma."
"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,'" Jenkins wrote. "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."
"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," Rev. Jenkins wrote.
Two Republican senators -- Jeff Flake of Arizona and Ben Sasse of Nebraska -- argued that the line of questioning pursued by Durbin and Feinstein had gone past the mark. "I think some of the questioning you’ve been subjected to today seems to miss some of these fundamental constitutional protections that we all have," Sasse said.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-MO) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) also queried the Trump nominee. "I've read some of what you've written on Catholic judges in capital cases and, in particular, as I understand it, you argued that Catholic judges are morally precluded from enforcing the death penalty," Cruz said. Barrett replied, "A little bit narrower than that." Cruz added, "I was going to ask you to just please explain your views on that, because that obviously is of relevance to the job for which you have been nominated."
Senator Feinstein professes the Jewish faith, even though she graduated from a Catholic high school.