The Washington-based Judicial Crisis Network launched a 10-day digital ad campaign on 15 September, objecting to a US Democratic senator grilling a Catholic judicial nominee on 6 September about what impact her faith would have on her interpretation of the law.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, spurred outrage about possible religious tests for judicial appointees with the questions she put to Amy Coney Barrett, nominee for a seat on the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Judicial Crisis Network, a group that describes itself as dedicated to strengthening liberty and justice in America, called Feinstein's grilling of the nominee "disgusting and repulsive." The ad, under the headline "Catholics Need Not Apply," is appearing on YouTube and Twitter and also can be viewed at https://judicialnetwork.com/multimedia.
"This is going to be known as 'Feinstein's Folly.' Her line of questioning reeked of 'No Catholics Need Apply,' while ignoring Professor Barrett's stellar qualifications, experience and fierce commitment to defending the Constitution," said Carrie Severino, the network's chief counsel and policy director.
"Feinstein was fundamentally at odds with our constitutional commitment to religious freedom, not to mention politically tone-deaf," she said in a statement. "More than one out of every five Americans is Catholic, and that includes a growing Latino population. A nominee's faith should have nothing to do with his or her qualifications to be a federal judge. Period."
Reaction from Catholic leaders to the Senate hearing for Barrett was swift, with a leading archbishop calling the Senate hearing "deeply disappointing."
In the hearing, Feinstein not only referred to Barrett's speeches in the committee hearing, but also to a 1998 article by Barrett, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, about the role of Catholic judges in death penalty cases.
Feinstein did not question Barrett about capital punishment cases, but rather the upholding of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that made abortion legal.
"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 for years in this country."
Barrett addressed this issue early in the hearing, answering a question from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, by saying: "It is never appropriate for a judge to apply their personal convictions, whether it derives from faith or personal conviction."
Richard Garnett, also a University of Notre Dame law professor, said Feinstein's line of questioning seemed to say "because you're a Catholic, you can't be believed."
Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, said the hearing was "deeply disappointing" since a number of senators failed to "simply consider the professional achievements of a nominee for the federal judiciary" and instead "challenged her fitness to serve due to her Catholic faith."
Appearing on CNN's "State of the Union" on 17 September, Feinstein said that Barrett's writings are all the Senate committee has in considering her nomination for an appeals court seat.
"And in her writings, she makes some statements which are questionable, which deserve questions," the senator said.
Feinstein said is not anti-Catholic and noted that in her youth, she herself received a Catholic education. "I sat in doctrine classes for four years for five days a week. I think that Catholicism is a great religion, I have great respect for it," she said.
"I've known many of the archbishops who have been in my community," she continued. "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."
In a broadcast on SiriusXM's "The Catholic Channel," New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan decried that "this wonderful woman (Barrett) with impeccable legal credentials who has been nominated by the president of the United States for (a) federal judgeship, was submitted to insulting remarks about her faith."
In a transcript of his remarks released on 13 September, the cardinal quoted Feinstein as saying, "You seem to live dogma. Dogma is in your life, so therefore you shouldn't be a judge.'"
He also quoted Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, telling Barrett: "I understand you are an Orthodox Catholic." That remark, Cardinal Dolan said, "is kind of redundant when you think about it. You'd like to think every Catholic is orthodox. Like that should disqualify her from office. This is nasty. This is bigoted. And this is, I would maintain, unconstitutional."
He added: "What if there was a Jewish candidate for the bench, which there are. ... There are great ones. And a judge said, 'Would you allow your Jewish belief to guide you if there were a question about the state of Israel that would come before your court?' There would be an outrage, and I would be part of the outrage, leading it to defend the rights of the Jewish community."
PICTURE: Senator Dianne Feinstein