- - Monday, January 14, 2019

The religious beliefs of nominees have suddenly become fair game in the judicial confirmation process. Consider the frosty line of questioning Sens. Kamala Harris and Mazie Hirono recently leveled at a federal judicial nominee.

In a questionnaire for federal court nominee Brian Buescher, Ms. Harris pointed out that, “Since 1993, [he has] been a member of the Knights of Columbus.” This membership leads her to ask Buescher: “Were you aware that the Knights of Columbus opposed a woman’s right to choose when you joined the organization?” And based on his membership with the Knights, she wondered whether he believed that abortion is “the killing of the innocent on a massive scale”?

Ms. Hirono went a step farther and asked Mr. Buescher whether he plans, if confirmed, to “end his membership with [the Knights of Columbus]” to “avoid any appearance of bias.”

Make no mistake: These questions weren’t about Mr. Buescher’s membership with the Knights of Columbus; they were about his belief in the Catholic Church and its teachings. It’s no secret the Catholic Church opposes abortion, so it should come as no surprise that a charitable organization whose members are predominantly Catholic is also pro-life.

What is any reasonable Catholic or person of faith supposed to make of these questions? They are supposed to be intimidated because the questions amount to a sign that reads, “Catholics Need Not Apply.” But religious tests as a prerequisite to public service are prohibited by the Constitution that both Sen. Harris and Sen. Hirono have sworn to uphold.

In addition to this disturbing ignorance of a basic constitutional guarantee, the senators also assume that because Mr. Buescher belongs to a group that opposes abortion, he will be unable to faithfully apply the law in cases involving abortion law. That is nonsense. As he explained in his response to the senators, Mr. Buescher is clear: “I will faithfully apply all United States Supreme Court and Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals precedent on all issues, including Roe v. Wade.”

There is something else very odd behind this line of questioning, one that has little to do with religion or the Constitution and more to do with the senators’ misunderstanding of what Americans think about abortion. The senators suggest that the Knights of Columbus’ stance against abortion is “extreme.” Yet more than half of Americans believe abortion is “morally wrong,” according to a Marist poll commissioned by the Knights.

The same poll found that more than 60 percent of Americans think that abortion should be banned after 20 weeks of pregnancy — yet both Ms. Harris and Ms. Hirono voted against just such a ban last year. It’s enough to make you wonder who the real extremists are.

All of this would be less worrying if these two senators were outliers. Unfortunately, they represent a larger trend among Democratic senators questioning judicial nominees. Last year, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, criticized Amy Coney Barrett for her Catholic beliefs. “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 years in this country,” she said, referring to abortion law.

Sens. Feinstein, Harris and Hirono need to stop using the judicial nomination process to blow a dog whistle for far left groups who want keep anyone who may disagree with them about abortion out of power. Shame on the senators — they should know better. They should understand that someone’s religious convictions do not disqualify them for a place on the bench.

• Grazie Pozo Christie is a radiologist and mother of five. She is senior policy adviser at The Catholic Association.

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