Some Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have decided to use the confirmation hearings of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to complain, yet again, about what they consider to be unfair treatment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
Yesterday, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) grilled Jackson on her religious beliefs, asking her how often she goes to church and even demanding that she rate her religiosity on a scale from 1-10.
Jackson rightly refused to answer, pointing out that these are private matters and noting for good measure that Article VI of the Constitution bars religious tests for public office. She also committed to separate her personal religious views from how she would rule as a judge.
Since Republicans on the committee seem intent on sowing confusion about this issue to even old scores, here’s a little reminder: Grilling a judicial candidate about his or her religious beliefs is inappropriate. Asking a candidate if he or she would be able to separate those beliefs when handing down rulings is not.
Barrett was questioned not about her beliefs but how those beliefs might influence her rulings. The issue came up because, as a law professor, she had signed a public statement attacking legal abortion and taught law students at the Blackstone Fellowship, a legal clinic sponsored by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). ADF is a Christian nationalist legal group, and the Blackstone website used to boast that its goal was to “recover the robust Christendomic theology of the 3rd, 4th and 5th centuries.”
This led some people to conclude, with justification, that Barrett might have difficulty separating her religious views from her rulings, and she was asked about that during her Supreme Court nomination hearings.
Judges are expected to make their decisions on the basis of the Constitution and U.S. law, not holy books or religious doctrine. Most have no problem doing so – even those who are personally very religious. To cite just one example, Justice William Brennan, who served on the high court from 1956-1990, was a devout Roman Catholic and also a champion of separation of church and state who understood that religious freedom is for everyone.
Unlike Barrett, Jackson has no record of making public statements that indicate she wants to fuse religion and government, nor did she teach classes on behalf of an organization that has the stated goal of tearing down the church-state wall. Grilling the nominee on her religious beliefs might help people like Graham and his allies score cheap political points, but it sheds no useful light on the type of justice Jackson might turn out to be.
Photo: Screenshot from C-SPAN