Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) sought to defend her grilling of a Trump administration judicial nominee. Feinstein said during a hearing earlier this month that nominee, Prof.Amy Coney Barrett had made “questionable” statements in her writings. On September 6, Feinstein told Barrett that Catholic “dogma lives loudly within you” and added “you are controversial.” Barrett, a professor at Notre Dame Law School, once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. President Trump nominated her to fill a vacancy on the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals. 

On Sunday, Feinstein explained her opposition to Barrett. Feinstein said that while she considered the Catholic faith to be a “great religion,” she believes that it appropriate for the Senate Judiciary Committee to quiz Barrett about her religious beliefs. “Having said that, this is a woman who has no real trial or court experience,” said Feinstein. “And, therefore, there is no record. She’s a professor, which is fine, but all we have to look at are her writings, and in her writings, she makes some statements which are questionable, which deserve questions.”

Echoing his Democratic collegue at the hearing, Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois asked Barrett, “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?” Barrett answered: “I am a Catholic.”

Feinstein’s questions appeared to stem from a paper co-written by Barrett and John Garvey in 1998. Garvey is president of Catholic University of America. They argued in the paper that Catholic judges should consider recusing themselves from cases in which their moral principles conflict with the law. Garvey told Fox News “Journal Editorial Report” on Saturday, “In cases where there is a real conflict, the position we took was that it’s proper for the judge — the judge should in fact recuse herself.” Garvey said, “There’s a federal statute that allows for recusal in that situation, and we say that’s what she should do.” When host Paul Gigot asked, “Isn’t that what you want?” Garvey responded, “That is what you want.”

Feinstein appeared to draw the opposite conclusion at the September 6 hearing. She told Barrett, “You have a long history of believing that your religious beliefs should prevail.” Then, on Sunday, Feinstein said Barrett had concluded in her 1998 paper that “it may well be that a Catholic judge cannot be independent.” Feinstein said, “This is not a direct quote because I don’t have it in front of me, but it was something to necessitate us to, I thought, appropriately ask about it.” 

Speaking to the issue on Sunday, Garvey said that while the paper he co-wrote with Barrett centered on religious objections to the death penalty: “I think the questioning was not really about the death penalty. I think it was about abortion and same-sex marriage.” Garvey appeared to join other critics of Senate Democrats, who accuse the Democrats of imposing a “religious test” on judicial nominees. Garvey said the questioning was “disappointing.” “There was an implicit suggestion that religious convictions somehow ought to be different from other deep convictions people come to the court with,” Garvey said.

According to, Feinstein attended a Catholic high school. Her father was Jewish, while her mother was Catholic. In her youth, she attended synagogue.



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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