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Supreme Court to Decide Whether to Hear Catholic Diocese’s Challenge to Cuomo’s Worship Restrictions
Senator Dianne Feinstein infamously sneered that “the dogma lives loudly in” Amy Coney Barrett during the hearings on the latter’s confirmation to an appeals court, and added, “and that’s of concern.” A lot of people, not just on the right and not just Barrett’s fellow Catholics, objected. But while there was a widespread sense that Feinstein had acted badly, not everyone was precise in articulating what she had done wrong.
Feinstein’s defenders minimized what she had done, saying that it was fine for the senator to raise questions about Barrett’s views on the relationship between faith and judging. Some Barrett supporters made it easier to mount that defense by saying, too broadly, that it was wrong even to raise such questions. But Barrett herself had written about that relationship, so the topic was within bounds. And it is hypothetically possible for someone’s views about it to be relevant to his ability to do the job. If, for example, a judicial nominee believed in a “living Constitution” and thought its ambiguities should be resolved by consulting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, senators would be right to take that into account when voting on confirmation.
Feinstein’s real offense — leaving aside the nasty tone in referring to someone’s religion — was to treat Barrett’s strong faith as an indicator that she could not perform the job of a judge in applying the law, even though she had never said or written anything remotely comparable to our hypothetical. Feinstein’s office compounded this offense by, e.g., reading something sinister into Barrett’s use of the phrase “the kingdom of God”: a misreading that it would have taken minimal effort to avoid, and one that came in the context of Feinstein’s demonstrated bias.
Voters evaluating a politician are in a somewhat different position from senators evaluating a judge. Because judges ought to apply the law while legislators make it, a broader range of questions about prospective legislators’ beliefs are fair game. Even here, though, there are bounds. It would be wrong — bigoted, intolerant — to vote or argue against a Jewish candidate for Congress on the ground that he denies that salvation comes through Jesus Christ.
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