Judicial committee narrowly approves 7th Circuit nominee Barrett

The U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary voted along party lines Thursday to approve Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Barrett, a professor at Notre Dame Law School, along with Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Louise Larsen, nominated to the 6th Circuit, and Eric Dreiband, nominated to be assistant attorney general to the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, were approved by the committee on 11-to-9 votes. None of the nominees garnered any votes from Democrats.  

Prior to the vote, Democrats and Republicans sparred over the questions Barrett faced during her Sept. 6 hearing. Committee members, primarily Democrats, raised concerns about Barrett’s willingness to follow precedent and her ability to separate her Catholic faith from her judicial decisions. A few Republicans also asked about her past scholarly writing which contemplated when a judge’s religious beliefs conflict with the law.

Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, remarked specifically about Barrett, calling her “eminently qualified” and an exceptionally bright nominee.” He also admonished his Democrat colleagues for strongly implying in their questions that “She was too Catholic.” He characterized their questioning as leading the committee down a “dangerous road” of implementing an unconstitutional religious test for nominees.

“I don’t think how religious a nominee is or isn’t should every be part of our evaluation,” he said.

Committee ranking member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., both Catholics, fired back. They pointed out Barrett has no judicial experience and very limited trial experience so the committee was left with reviewing her academic writing to understand her judicial views.

In addition, Durbin noted that Grassley along with Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch and Ted Cruz also asked Barrett about her writings on the intersection between religious beliefs and judicial experience.

“I take our Constitution seriously when it says there shall be no religious test for public office but many senators on this committee, Republicans and Democrats, felt the writings of the nominee warranted an inquiry about her views on the impact of religion on a judge’s role,” Durbin said. “That is not a religious test.”      

Barrett’s nomination will now go to the Senate floor for a vote by a full chamber.

President Donald Trump nominated Barrett to fill Indiana’s 7th Circuit seat vacated by Judge John Tinder in 2015. Former Indiana Supreme Court Justice Myra Selby was nominated to replace Tinder by President Barack Obama, but then-Sen. Dan Coats refused to turn in his blue slip in support her nomination so the judiciary committee never gave her a hearing.

Graduating from Notre Dame Law School in 1997, Barrett has spent the majority of her career in academia. She clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and then worked a few years in private practice before returning to South Bend to join the law faculty at Notre Dame.

Colleagues at Notre Dame as well as former students and attorneys who clerked alongside Barrett, have written letters in support of her nomination to the 7th Circuit.

However, Barrett has also incited strong opposition. Within minutes of the committee’s vote, both the Alliance for Justice and the Civil and Human Rights Coalition denounced the approval given to Barrett, Larsen and Dreiband.

“Additionally, advancing the nominations of Joan Larsen and Amy Barrett for lifetime appointments to federal appeals courts furthers the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine rights that women, people of color, and LGBT Americans have spent generations fighting to vindicate,” the Civil and Human Rights Coalition said in a statement.  

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