FFRF to Lindsey Graham: It’s OK to ask if religion will affect rulings

Brown Graham

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling out Sen. Lindsey Graham for his bizarre and phony line of questioning today of Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson about her religion.

Graham launched a peculiar series of questions regarding Brown Jackson’s faith, such as “how faithful” she is and whether she “attend[s] church regularly.” He even asked her to rate her religious faith “on a scale of 1 to 10.” After bluntly asking her, “What faith are you, by the way?” and when she started to answer “nondenominational Protestant,” he then interrupted her to ask whether she felt she could judge a Catholic person fairly. As she tried to say “I have a record of . . . judging everyone,” and mentioned the importance of setting aside personal views when considering cases, Graham interrupted her repeatedly.

These questions were purely theatrical. Graham had an ax to grind and was exploiting the hearing to claim that Amy Coney Barrett was “treated very, very poorly” during her confirmation hearings. Sen. Dianne Feinstein had expressed concern during Barrett’s appeals court confirmation that Barrett’s extreme religious views might influence her ability to be an impartial judge. “The dogma lives loudly in you,” Feinstein said of Barrett during that 2017 hearing.

Graham is supremely wrong that this line of questioning of Barrett was inappropriate. She herself had written a law review article on the question of how “Catholic judges” who feel their religion prohibits them from giving a death sentence should handle a capital offense case. She said they ought to recuse themselves rather than violate their religious beliefs. In other words, Barrett herself concluded that religious belief might prohibit “Catholic judges” from doing their job.

Asking Barrett whether she, as a self-described “Catholic judge,” would have religious beliefs that interfere with her ability to do her job, was thus appropriate, since Barrett herself raised it as a serious concern. Graham’s outrage over the line of questioning is disingenuous.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation seeks to educate the public about the constitutional separation between state and church, and a central tenet of that separation is Article VI’s prohibition on religious tests for public office.

“Stating that Catholics cannot be judges would obviously violate this provision, but ensuring that a judge will be able to do her job impartially does not,” notes FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “In this country, we have Catholics who are judges, but we do not have ‘Catholic judges.’”

A judge’s personal religious beliefs should not impact their ability to do the job, and if it does, they should find a new line of work. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson seems to understand this point well and endured Graham’s misguided rant admirably. It’s “very important to set aside one’s personal views,” she correctly pointed out.

Graham should realize that.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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