Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) condemned religious tests for judicial nominees during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday and ended up having a confrontation with Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) who argued that sometimes questions about a nominee’s religious beliefs are relevant to how they will rule on certain matters.
“The problem with asking a nominee about the particulars of his or her religious beliefs is that those questions inevitably expose those beliefs as somehow a qualifier or a disqualifier for public office,” Sen. Lee argued. “That is flatly inconsistent with at least the letter, at least the spirit if not also the letter, of at least two provisions of the Constitution. I cannot fathom why this would ever make sense to do.”
He then directly confronted Sen. Hirono, who has faced criticism for her scrutiny of judicial nominee Brian Buescher’s membership in the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic charitable organization of which John F. Kennedy was once a member.
Lee invoked Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-NJ) question to judicial nominee Neomi Rao earlier this week. Booker asked her if she thought gay relationships were a “sin.”
“I would ask Sen. Hirono, in what circumstance, in what way, shape, or form is asking Neomi Rao whether she believes particular conduct to be sinful an appropriate question to be asked in this committee,” Lee asked.
“These probing questions — if you were to list all of the questions that we ask, they have to do with whether or not these nominees’ very strongly-held religious views,” Hirono replied, “as well as any other views that may not enable them to be objective as judges in lifetime positions, I think that’s a legitimate area of inquiry. And it is not that we all ask, 'Do you think such and such is a sin, et cetera, et cetera —'”
“That was asked then,” Lee interrupted referring to Booker's questioning. “This week, this week it was asked. I’m not making this up.”
“I know that,” Hirono replied, “I don't think we are here to censure the motives of each other’s questions, and I ask, I ask all of us to be very cognizant of the fact that we are here to try and do our jobs to the best of our ability and that is what we are doing."
She seemed to take offense at Lee’s comments, emphasizing that she did not sit on the committee to have her motives questioned.
“I do not sit here to be questioned about my motives as to the kind of questions that I seek answers to because what I want to make sure is that these nominees,” she said, “who 80 percent of them, are pretty much Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation nominees, whether they can set aside — I don’t care what kind of religious views they have. Good. I just want to make sure those views and the other views they hold about LGBTQ rights, about all of these other issues that come before us, that they can set aside their ideological views so that they can objectively decide cases. That is where I and I know that’s where my colleagues are coming from, you certainly can come to your own conclusions.“
Senate Democrats have been criticized in the past for asking religious questions of President Trump's judicial nominees.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) famously made concerning remarks two years ago during the confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, telling her “the dogma lives loudly within you and that’s of concern.”
Carrie Severino, Chief Counsel and Policy Advisor with the Judicial Crisis Network, thanked Sen. Lee for his remarks.
"Thank you Sen. Mike Lee for putting Senate Democrats, who have demonstrated hate towards religion and people of faith, on notice for bullying President Trump's judicial nominees,” she said in a statement. “These smear tactics have no place in a judicial confirmation, or anywhere else.”