On Tuesday, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) released an op-ed titled, "Elected leaders who weaponize religion are playing a dangerous game."
The piece, published by The Hill, took aim at politicians who use religion as a cudgel against their political opponents, specially as it pertains to judicial nominees.
While I oppose the nomination of Brian Buescher to the U.S. District Court in Nebraska, I stand strongly against those who are fomenting religious bigotry, citing as disqualifiers Buescher’s Catholicism and his affiliation with the Knights of Columbus. If Buescher is "unqualified" because of his Catholicism and affiliation with the Knights of Columbus, then President John F. Kennedy, and the "liberal lion of the Senate" Ted Kennedy would have been "unqualified" for the same reasons.
Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution clearly states that there "shall be no religious test" for any seeking to serve in public office.
No American should be told that his or her public service is unwelcome because "the dogma lives loudly within you" as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said to Amy Coney Barrett during her confirmation hearings in 2017 to serve as U.S. Circuit Court judge in the 7th Circuit.
Gabbard further wrote: "We must call this out for what it is – religious bigotry. This is true not just when such prejudice is anti-Catholic, but also when it is anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-Hindu, or anti-Protestant, or any other religion."
While the representative singled out Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) regarding her comment to 7th Circuit Judge (then nominee) Amy Coney Barrett, Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono (D) appears to have taken the op-ed personally, as she was one of the individuals who questioned nominee Brian Buescher regarding his faith and membership with the Knights of Columbus (KoC).
Through spokesman Will Dempster, Hirono’s office issued the following statement:
Senator Hirono asks all judicial nominees – particularly those who have expressed very strong personal ideological views in conflict with Supreme Court precedent – if they can be fair. She asked Mr. Buescher, who has a clear record of anti-choice activism, whether he could separate his personal beliefs from decisions he would make if confirmed for a lifetime appointment on the federal bench. Over the past two years, the Senator has been attacked by right wing ideologues for her examination of Donald Trump’s ideologically-driven nominees to the courts. It is unfortunate that Congresswoman Gabbard based her misguided opinion on the far-right wing manipulation of these straightforward questions.
In her written questions to Buescher, Sen. Hirono asked about the time the nominee called Roe v Wade "unfortunate" while running for Attorney General of Nebraska. She also asked the nominee about his moral beliefs, and his personal beliefs regarding gay marriage.
Hirono repeatedly asked about Buescher’s membership in the KoC, inquiring as to whether he could be fair and impartial given his position in the Catholic-based charitable organization.
Below is one example of Hirono’s line of questioning:
Q: Given your membership in this organization, what assurances can litigants have that you will deal with reproductive rights and abortion issues fairly and impartially?
A: The Judicial Oath in 28 U.S.C § 453 requires judges to swear or affirm that they "will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and ... faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent ... under the Constitution and laws of the United States." If confirmed, I will abide by this oath. I will faithfully apply all United States Supreme Court and Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals precedent on all issues.
The rest of her questions regarding Buescher’s faith and membership in the KoC can be read here.
During the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017, Sen. Dianne Feinstein famously said to the Catholic nominee:
Whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different. And I think in your case, professor, 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
Gabbard doesn’t appear to have liked Hirono’s questions, as they appear to echo Feinstein’s infamous questioning of Coney Barrett. Gabbard wrote in her op-ed: "... we must not claim or imply that an individual is not qualified because of their religion or their membership in a particular religious organization, or their belief in the tenets of their faith."
Gabbard announced her intention to run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination on Friday. Her op-ed could be an attempt to stand out among what is expected to be a very crowded Democratic field.