NY Times Defends Democratic Religious Test for Trump's Court of Appeals Nominee

September 29th, 2017 10:04 AM

Defending attempts by Democratic senators to issue a religious test to a Trump judicial nominee, New York Times religion reporter Laurie Goodstein filed a hit piece for Friday’s edition on Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit: “Links to Religious Group Raise Issues for Nominee.” She wrote: "Legal scholars said that such loyalty oaths could raise legitimate questions about a judicial nominee’s independence and impartiality":

One of President Trump’s judicial nominees became something of a hero to religious conservatives after she was grilled at a Senate hearing this month over whether her Roman Catholic faith would influence her decisions on the bench.

The nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, a law professor up for an appeals court seat, had raised the issue herself in articles and speeches over the years. The Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee zeroed in on her writings, and in the process prompted accusations that they were engaged in religious bigotry.

“The dogma lives loudly within you,” declared Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, in what has become an infamous phrase. Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, accused his colleagues of employing an unconstitutional “religious test” for office.

Ms. Barrett told the senators that she was a faithful Catholic, and that her religious beliefs would not affect her decisions as an appellate judge. But her membership in a small, tightly knit Christian group called People of Praise never came up at the hearing, and might have led to even more intense questioning.

Some of the group’s practices would surprise many faithful Catholics. Members of the group swear a lifelong oath of loyalty, called a covenant, to one another, and are assigned and are accountable to a personal adviser, called a “head” for men and a “handmaid” for women. The group teaches that husbands are the heads of their wives and should take authority over the family.

Goodstein sure made the questions sound like a religious test, something that has been ruled unconstitutional at every level of the federal government:

Legal scholars said that such loyalty oaths could raise legitimate questions about a judicial nominee’s independence and impartiality. The scholars said in interviews that while there certainly was no religious test for office, it would have been relevant for the senators to examine what it means for a judicial nominee to make an oath to a group that could wield significant authority over its members’ lives.

“These groups can become so absorbing that it’s difficult for a person to retain individual judgment,” said Sarah Barringer Gordon, a professor of constitutional law and history at the University of Pennsylvania. “I don’t think it’s discriminatory or hostile to religion to want to learn more” about her relationship with the group.


Ms. Barrett was questioned in particular about a 1998 scholarly article in which she and her co-author argued that sometimes Catholic trial judges should recuse themselves from the sentencing phase of death penalty cases. At the hearing, Ms. Barrett backed away from that position, saying she could not think of any class of cases in which she would recuse herself because of her faith.


The group believes in prophecy, speaking in tongues and divine healings, staples of Pentecostal churches that some Catholics have also adopted in a movement called charismatic renewal. The People of Praise was an early leader in the flowering of that movement in North America. It is ecumenical, but about 90 percent of its members are Catholic.


Every nominee for the federal bench is required to fill out a detailed questionnaire for the Senate Judiciary Committee. Ms. Barrett did not list any religious affiliations on her questionnaire, though many nominees have in the past.

Administration officials said on Thursday that the White House has been advising all its judicial nominees that they need not list religious affiliations on their Senate questionnaires.

But Mollie Hemingway at The Federalist lambasted Goodstein’s hit piece and filled readers in on crucial missing context regarding Barrett’s alleged lack of transparency:

It begins by attempting to exculpate the senators who grilled her by blaming Barrett for their questions. She suggests that they were not bigots but only asking Barrett legitimate questions that arose from her writing. It was really her fault she was asked about the dogma living loudly within her, because she had failed to cleanse all of her scholarship at the University of Notre Dame from mention of religion.

Then the story darkly suggests that she was not being truthful when she said she could be a fair appellate judge, because she’s a member of a group that the senators would have liked to grill her about even more had they known she was a member.


The article says administration officials had advised nominees not to list religious affiliations. And it’s also worth noting something the article does not, which is that the questionnaire doesn’t ask for religious affiliations. It asks for many other types of affiliations, but not religious ones. Probably because that would be viewed as a religious test.

Goodstein’s hostility to a branch of Catholicism is ironic, given her concerns over “Islamophobia” in her previous reporting, and her respect for the more liberal brand of Catholicism offered by Pope Francis.