Barrett, a professor at Notre Dame Law School, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday at her confirmation hearing to be a United States Circuit Judge for the Seventh U.S. Court of Appeals.
In the past, Barrett had clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and has twice been honored as “Distinguished Professor of the Year” at Notre Dame.
However, as she appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, some of the pointed questions directed at her by Democratic senators focused on how her Catholic faith would influence her decisions as a judge on cases of abortion and same-sex marriage.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), ranking member of the committee, told Barrett outright that her Catholic beliefs were concerning, as they may influence her decisions as a judge on abortion rights.
“Why is it that so many of us on this side have this very uncomfortable feeling that dogma and law are two different things, and I think whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different,” Feinstein said.
“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.”
Feinstein began her round of questions by personally complimenting Barrett that she was “amazing to have seven children and do what you do,” but then called her “controversial” when she began to address Barrett’s record in law, “because you have a long history of believing that your religious beliefs should prevail” over the law.
“You’re controversial because many of us that have lived our lives as women really recognize the value of finally being able to control our reproductive systems,” she said. “And Roe entered into that, obviously.”
Barrett repeatedly said that as a judge, she would uphold the law of the land and would not let her religious beliefs inappropriately alter her judicial decisions.
At the beginning of the hearing, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chair of the committee, asked Barrett: “When is it proper for a judge to put their religious views above applying the law?”
“Never,” Barrett answered. “It’s never appropriate for a judge to impose that judge’s personal convictions, whether they derive from faith or anywhere else, on the law.”
Feinstein’s “anti-Catholic bigotry” in her questions to Barrett “is especially chilling because it defames and slanders such an accomplished woman in the legal guild,” Pecknold said.
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Feinstein “reveals herself to be the sort of ideologue who never considers the substance of her interlocutor’s actual legal decisions, but rather projects false ideologies onto everyone who disagrees with her party on any point,” Pecknold charged.
In 1998, Barrett co-authored an article in the Marquette Law Review with then-Notre Dame law professor John Garvey, now the president of The Catholic University of America. The article focused on Catholic judges in death penalty cases.
Catholic judges, if their consciences oppose the administering of the death penalty, should, in accordance with federal law, recuse themselves from capital cases where a jury recommends a death sentence, Garvey and Barrett wrote. They should also recuse themselves from cases without a jury where they have the option of granting a death sentence, they wrote.
On Wednesday, Barrett was asked repeatedly about this article, published 19 years ago, and whether she still agreed with it today. Barrett answered that she was still a third-year law student during the article’s publication, and “was very much the junior partner” in writing it with her professor.
“Would I, or could I, say that sitting here today, that article in its every particular, reflects how I think about these questions today with, as you say, the benefit of 20 years of experience and also the ability to speak solely in my own voice? No, it would not,” she answered Senator Grassley’s opening question on the article.
She added that she still upholds “the core proposition of that article which is that if there is ever a conflict between a judge’s personal conviction and that judge’s duty under the rule of law, that it is never, ever permissible for that judge to follow their personal convictions in the decision of a case rather than what the law requires.”