Mar 01 2019
This week the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance the nomination of Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Administrator Neomi Rao to be a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. This was a huge win for conservatives.
Rao is a founding director of the Center for the Study of the Administrative State at George Mason University's Antonin Scalia Law School and has written extensively about the problems inherent in the modern administrative state.
But before this week’s vote, my colleague Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) asked Rao, during her confirmation hearing, “Do you believe gay relationships are immoral?” He further pressed, “Do you believe they’re a sin?”
This was deeply inappropriate. A United States Senator, in a public hearing, was cross-examining a nominee on her religious beliefs in order to determine her fitness for public office.
Disturbingly, this has not been an isolated trend. Nomination hearings in the Senate have become a blood-sport, and unfortunately, nominees’ religious beliefs have been a prime target.
Just this past December, judicial nominee Brian Buescher was questioned about his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a charitable Catholic organization. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) cited the organization’s opposition to same-sex marriage, asking, “If confirmed, do you intend to end your membership with this organization to avoid any appearance of bias?” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) similarly asked, “Were you aware that the Knights of Columbus opposed a woman’s right to choose when you joined the organization?”
In September 2017, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) grilled a Seventh Circuit nominee on her religious beliefs.
In June 2017, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) asked OMB Director Russell Vought whether he believed that “people who are not Christians are going to be condemned.” He later stated he would vote against his nomination because Vought was not “what this country is supposed to be about.”
These strange inquisitions have nothing to do with these nominees’ competency, patriotism, or ability to serve Americans of different faiths equally. And indeed, they are flatly inconsistent with the spirit—if not the letter—two of the most fundamental tenets of our constitutional republic—that is, religious freedom.
The language the Framers inserted into the Constitution was unequivocal: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” As an original provision of the Constitution, predating even the Bill of Rights, and applying equally to all religious adherents, it is one of our strongest bulwarks for religious freedom – and it ought to be upheld. The First Amendment also guarantees individuals the right to the free exercise of religion.
But the extreme progressive wing of the Democratic party apparently thinks otherwise. Instead, they have sought to expose nominees’ religious beliefs as somehow qualifiers, or disqualifiers, for holding public office. In doing so, they have inevitably subjected these upright citizens to shame, ridicule, and scorn on the basis of their beliefs – all the while imposing their own secular, progressive creed. And as we have seen, this creed has proven that is capable of both triumphalism and intolerance.
This is wildly unacceptable. The government does not – and should not – have any jurisdiction over people’s most personal and deeply held convictions.
But thankfully, there is a way out of this vicious cycle of religious intolerance – and that is to respect the constitutional rights of all of our citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs. Because religious freedom puts all Americans on the same footing, helping them to stand upright and honest before the law.