Sen. Dianne Feinstein defended Sunday her much-criticized grilling of a judicial nominee over her Catholic faith, saying that Amy Coney Barrett had made “questionable” statements in her writings.
Mrs. Feinstein said that she considered Catholicism to be a “great religion,” but that it was appropriate for the Senate Judiciary Committee to quiz Ms. Barrett about her religious beliefs.
“Having said that, this is a woman who has no real trial or court experience,” said Mrs. Feinstein on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “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.”
During the Sept. 6 hearing, the California Democrat told Ms. Barrett, a professor at Notre Dame Law School, that “dogma lives loudly within you” and that “you are controversial.”
Ms. Barrett, who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, was nominated by President Trump to fill a vacancy on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Another Democrat, Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, asked her, “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?”
The questions stemmed in large part from a 1998 paper co-written by Ms. Barrett and John Garvey, now president of Catholic University of America.
In the paper they argued that Catholic judges should consider recusing themselves from cases in which their moral principles conflict with the law.
“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,” Mr. Garvey said Saturday on Fox’s “Journal Editorial Report.” “There’s a federal statute that allows for recusal in that situation, and we say that’s what she should do.”
Host Paul Gigot asked, “Isn’t that what you want?” Mr. Garvey responded, “That is what you want.”
At the hearing, however, Mrs. Feinstein appeared to draw the opposite conclusion, telling Ms. Barrett that, “You have a long history of believing that your religious beliefs should prevail.”
On Sunday Mrs. Feinstein said Ms. Barrett had concluded in her paper that “it may well be that a Catholic judge cannot be independent.”
“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,” Mrs. Feinstein said.
While the paper 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,” Mr. Garvey said.
Critics have accused the Senate Democrats of trying to impose a “religious test” on judicial nominees; Mr. Garvey described the line of questioning as “disappointing.”
“There was an implicit suggestion that religious convictions somehow ought to be different from other deep convictions people come to the court with,” Mr. Garvey said.
Mrs. Feinstein stressed that she has a longstanding relationship with the Catholic Church, pointing out that she attended the Convent of the Sacred Heart High School.
Mrs. Feinstein’s father was Jewish and mother was Catholic, according to Encyclopedia.com.
“I think Catholicism is a great religion. I have great respect for it,” said Mrs. Feinstein. “I’ve known many of the archbishops who have been in our community, we’ve had dinner together, we’ve spoken together over many, many decades, and I’ve tried to be helpful to the church whenever I could.”
• Valerie Richardson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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