President Biden’s nominee for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was in the hot seat with Republican senators during her confirmation hearing Wednesday over her COVID-19 rulings against religious liberty in California.
At the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing Wednesday for Judge Lucy Haeran Koh, a ruling in which she sided against a group of worshippers became a sticking point.
Some Christians wished to hold a Bible study in their homes but were prohibited under California’s COVID-19 restrictions. However, secular gatherings — like at a salon or grocery store — were permitted under part of the state’s mandate.
The Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling overturned Judge Koh’s ruling and sided with the church members, halting the state’s restriction against at-home worship services.
“Your decision was completely contrary to the law,” said Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican. “Is it really that obscure to say that if California wants to allow casinos, bars, and strip clubs and movie studios to stay open, they also have to allow Christians to have a Bible study in their home?”
Sen. John Kennedy, Louisiana Republican, asked rhetorically whether there was “something about COVID in California that makes it more likely for a handful of people in their home who are worshipping Allah or the Dalai Lama to get COVID than a handful of people in a strip club?”
Judge Koh, who made the ruling as a member of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, stood by her reasoning at the time.
“The factual evidence that was before me was uncontroverted by the plaintiffs that the risk of transmission of COVID is greater when you are in a home than when you are in commercial entities that are actually regulated,” she said.
Democratic senators on the committee noted the 9th Circuit upheld Judge Koh’s ruling, and that at the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. sided with the three Democratic appointees who would have left the California restriction in place.
If confirmed, Judge Koh would be the first Korean American to serve on a federal appeals court.
She was nominated to the 9th Circuit by Mr. Biden in September after having been nominated by former President Obama. The Senate never took up her earlier nomination.