Democratic Senators Prey on Judicial Nominee with Their Unconstitutional Tests | News | First Liberty

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Democratic Senators Prey on Judicial Nominee with Their Unconstitutional Tests

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October 18, 2019
Another Religious Test | First Liberty

by Jorge Gomez • 5 min read

With the nomination of Sarah Pitlyk to the Federal District Court of Missouri, President Trump once again demonstrated a commitment to the rule of law in advancing judicial nominees who are exceptionally qualified.

Pitlyk currently serves as Special Counsel at the Thomas More Society, where she focuses on constitutional and civil rights litigation. Before joining the Thomas More Society, she worked at Clark & Sauer LLC, a civil litigation firm in St. Louis, Missouri, and was an associate at Covington & Burling LLP in Washington, D.C. After graduating from law school, Pitlyk served as a law clerk to then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. She earned her Bachelor’s degree, summa cum laude, from Boston College, masters’ degrees from Georgetown University and the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium), where she studied as a Fulbright Scholar, and received her law degree from Yale Law School.

Most importantly, Pitlyk has dedicated much of her legal career advancing and defending our most fundamental freedoms, including religious liberty.

Even with her exceptional record, Democratic Senators nevertheless opted to overlook her formidable qualifications and instead peppered her with questions about her Catholic faith. At a recent committee hearing, Senator Richard Blumenthal repeatedly targeted Pitlyk on whether she would make a good judge given her personal religious views and her extensive advocacy for faith-based issues when she was a lawyer.

Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this happen.

A survey of multiple nominees during the confirmation process shows us the Senate’s religious test almost appears to be the new normal. Executive branch and judicial nominees appear at confirmation hearings only to encounter certain Senators who interrogate them about their religious beliefs.

Here are several examples:

  • Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee grilled Neomi Rao—nominated to fill the appellate court vacancy left by Justice Brett Kavanaugh—about her religious views on marriage. Sen. Cory Booker asked her whether she thought certain marriage unions were “immoral” or “sinful.” She responded by clarifying that she would set aside her own views and uphold the law when deciding cases.
  • Again, during the confirmation proceedings of now Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Sen. Cory Booker posted a lengthy Facebook remark mocking and calling into question the religious beliefs of President Trump’s nominee.
  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein specifically chastised then-nominee Amy Coney Barrett—now a judge in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals—regarding her faith, stating: “The dogma lives loudly within you and that’s a concern.”
  • Current Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Russell Vought, had to endure a heated exchange with Senator Bernie Sanders about his religious beliefs and his affiliation with a Christian college.
  • Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Mazie Hirono took issue with Brian Buescher—nominated to fill a district court seat in Nebraska—and his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic service organization.
  • In another instance, Sen. Kamala Harris also questioned now-district court Judge Peter Phillips about his membership in the Knights of Columbus and whether his affiliation with that group would interfere or influence his decisions as a judge.
  • Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse pressed now-district Judge Trevor McFadden about statements that his pastor had made about marriage, asking if his pastor’s comments would conflict with the nominee’s application of the law.

When confronted with questions about their faith, an appropriate response from nominees would be to politely decline by stating: “The question you are asking is impermissible because its premise asserts a religious test for office, in violation of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.”

In other words, by “pleading the sixth,” nominees are effectively making it known that religious tests are much more than an act of political gamesmanship—they’re unlawful and unconstitutional.

America’s Founders put Article VI in place because they understood that imposing a religious test for office would be harmful to all Americans. These tests only do a disservice to our country because they blacklist any American who associates with a religious organization, serves in their house of worship, or lives according to their religious beliefs, essentially disqualifying them from serving in public office. They deprive our public institutions of the diverse beliefs and viewpoints that make up our great country.

No More Religious Test | First Liberty

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