Upper Left Coast

Thoughts on politics, faith, sports and other random topics from a red state sympathizer in indigo-blue Portland, Oregon.

Monday, August 22, 2005

If Catholics need not apply, does that include senators?

Today's column by Manuel Miranda on Opinion Journal — speculating that Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) has the most to lose by playing games with the John Roberts nomination — got me to thinking about one issue pertaining to religion in politics.

People of devout faith, Catholics in particular, have accused Democrats of blocking the nominations of people like 11th Circuit Court nominee William Pryor because of their "deeply held beliefs," as several judiciary committee members said (in various ways) during Pryor's hearings:
  • From Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY): "...his beliefs are so well known, so deeply held, that it is very hard to believe, very hard to believe, that they are not going to deeply influence the way he comes about saying, 'I will follow the law...' "
  • From Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.): "I think the very legitimate issue in question with your nomination is whether you have an agenda, that many of the positions which you have taken reflect not just an advocacy but a very deeply held view and a philosophy..."
As Byron York pointed out in a July 2003 National Review column, no Democrats ever publicly opposed Pryor (or any other nominee) for his or her "deeply held Catholic beliefs," despite efforts to suggest otherwise, and Republicans later backed away from such suggestions. But correctly or not, a deeply held belief that abortion was wrong was interpreted by some as a deeply held Catholic belief.

As the Committee for Justice said about Pryor's hearing: "...apart from the fact that the actual word religion was used more than once, it strains credulity to believe that when the Senator in his opening statement was discussing his own religious beliefs, he was switching to the nominee's views on antitrust in the very next sentence."

The interesting thing for me is that of the eight Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, four are identified (elsewhere, not on the Senate website) as Catholics: Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Joseph Biden of Deleware, Durbin and Kennedy. (Through various sites, I believe Republican committee members Mike DeWine of Ohio and Sam Brownback of Kansas are also Catholics.)

So if "deeply held beliefs" should keep a nominee from being approved for a judicial seat, wouldn't that mean that any Senators with "deeply held beliefs" should recuse themselves from the process? Or is just any beliefs that happen to conflict with those of Durbin, Kennedy, Leahy, etc.? And which beliefs are we talking about, at which point in time? After all, Durbin and Kennedy were both pro-life at one point.

I guess under the Democrat definition, people like Orrin Hatch of Utah, John Kyl of Arizona and John Cornyn of Texas should sit out any vote because (though they're not Catholic) they probably have "deeply held beliefs" on a nominee that were shaped by their faith. And all those people who voted for George Bush because of faith-related issues should have sat on their hands and let the secular voters run the country. Really, that's what Barry Lynn wants.

As the Committee for Justice noted, "Senate Democrats, by making personal beliefs the issue, have created a standard that requires Catholics (and Evangelical Christians, Orthodox Jews, and traditional Muslims) to renounce core tenets of their faith or face opposition to public office."

If personal beliefs are an issue for public office (which, by the way, is outlawed by Article 6 of the Constitution), then it should apply to Kennedy, Durbin and Leahy just as much as they want it to apply to John Roberts, William Pryor or any other nominee of faith.


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