WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday confirmed a judicial nominee who had been caught in the middle of a partisan fight over whether religious faith influences legal opinions.
The vote was 55-43 for Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.
Democrats had questioned Barrett during her confirmation hearings about her writings to discern how her Roman Catholic faith would affect her decisions. Most notably, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told Barrett that dogma and the law are two different things and she was concerned “that the dogma lives loudly within you.”
Republicans criticized the questioning as an unconstitutional religious test, while religious groups complained about anti-Catholic bigotry.
But Feinstein denied she was applying a religious test. She said Barrett had no judicial experience, so senators had to rely on her writings to determine what kind of judge she would be. Feinstein said Barrett had suggested a judge’s faith might affect her ability to rule in certain cases, and senators must make inquiries to ensure impartiality and fidelity to legal precedent.
Republicans praised Barrett’s position that judges should recuse themselves from cases if they felt they could not follow the law because of their faith.
“They should not, according to her, impose their personal convictions on the law but read what the law says, and if they can’t do that, they should make way for a judge who can,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. “I think maybe that’s one of the differences in a judicial nominee who believes that their job is to determine what the law says as opposed to determining what the law should say.”
Barrett is the 10th judicial nominee by President Donald Trump to earn confirmation, doubling the count from President Barack Obama at a similar stage of his presidency.
Still, Republicans are unhappy with the pace of confirmations and are threatening to force a change in rules if Democrats continue to require the Senate to use all the time allowed once a vote has been cast to limit debate.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said the Senate should reduce the number of hours for debate to two hours for judges, eight hours for members of the administration, and up to 30 hours for Supreme Court nominees.
“It’s time to vote either for the nominees or for a rules change,” Barrasso said.