'The Dogma Lives Loudly Within You': Senate Democrats Grill Appointee Over Catholic Faith

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., U.S. May 8, 2017
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., U.S. May 8, 2017 | (Photo: REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

A few Senate Democrats recently grilled a judicial nominee to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals over her Roman Catholic beliefs.

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Notre Dame Law School Professor Amy Coney Barrett held Wednesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., expressed concern over the nominee being too religious.

At issue were comments made by Professor Barrett going as far back as 1998, which some have interpreted as saying that Catholic teaching should take precedence over the law.

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"Why is it that so many of us on this side have this very uncomfortable feeling that — you know, dogma and law are two different things. And I think whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different," Feinstein said.

"I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that's of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country."

Democratic Sens. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois also expressed concerns over the religious views of Barrett, with Durbin concerned about Barrett's self-identification as an "orthodox Catholic" and Hirono, like Feinstein, taking issue with a 1998 article Barrett wrote.

"Ms. Barrett, I think your article is very plain in your perspective about the role of religion for judges, and particularly with regard to Catholic judges," said Hirono.

Himself a Catholic, Durbin at one point asked Barrett if she considered herself an "orthodox Catholic," with the nominee explaining that her religious beliefs would not interfere with her judicial obligations.

"If you're asking whether I'm a faithful Catholic, I am, although I would stress that my own personal church affiliation or my religious belief would not bear on the discharge of my duties as a judge," Barrett said.

The comments given by Feinstein and other Senate Democrats have garnered criticism by some, including a column published by the Washington Examiner.

"The bigger question isn't whether this distinguished professor doesn't understand what her judicial oath requires, but rather whether Feinstein understands, as Nebraska's Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican, noted, that it is unlawful to impose a religious test on public officials," argued the opinion piece.

"The real danger to our constitutional system comes not from Amy Barrett's Catholicism, but from Feinstein's animus against it."

Feinstein's comments about Barrett's beliefs come a few months after Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who caucuses with the Democrats, criticized a Trump administration appointee because he wrote a blog post expressing his belief that salvation can come only through Jesus Christ.

During a Senate Budget Committee nomination hearing in June, Sanders critically questioned Russell Vought, President Donald Trump's nominee for deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, over his conservative evangelical views.

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