Notre Dame President Calls Feinstein’s Criticism of Nominee’s Faith ‘Chilling’

Judiciary Committee's top Dem continues to draw fire over 'dogma' remarks

Sen. Dianne Feinsten (D., Calif.) / Getty Images

Sen. Dianne Feinsten (D., Calif.) / Getty Images

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The president of the University of Notre Dame called criticism of appeals court nominee Amy Barrett's Catholic faith "chilling" in an open letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.).

Rev. John I. Jenkins sent the letter after Feinstein, the Senate Judiciary Committee's top Democrat, criticized Barrett's nomination in light of her Catholic faith. Feinstein asked Barrett, a Notre Dame law school professor, if she could be trusted to impartially weigh in on cases involving abortion, given the Church's opposition to the practice.

"I would never impose my own personal convictions on the law," Barrett said during a Wednesday confirmation hearing.

Feinstein remained unconvinced by such assurances, saying, "the dogma lives loudly within you and that's of concern."

"It is chilling to hear from a United States Senator that this might now disqualify someone from service as a federal judge. I ask you and your colleagues to respect those in whom ‘dogma lives loudly'—which is a condition we call faith," Jenkins responded in a letter. "The attempt to live such faith while one upholds the law should command respect, not evoke concern."

Jenkins said that Feinstein's line of questioning, as well as her criticism of Barrett's faith, stood in opposition to the nation's commitment to religious liberty.

"I am one in whose heart ‘dogma lives loudly,' as it has for centuries in the lives of many Americans, some of whom have given their lives in service to this nation," the September 9 letter says. "Indeed, it lived loudly in the hearts of those who founded our nation as one where citizens could practice their faith freely and without apology."

Jenkins is not the only Catholic leader to criticize Feinstein for her role in questioning Barrett's faith. Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote.org, said her comments reflected an unconstitutional religious litmus test for those seeking to hold government positions.

"Bigotry has no place in our politics and reeks of an unconstitutional religious test for qualification to participate in the judiciary," Burch said in a statement. "We urge Senator Feinstein to apologize for her shameful attack on Professor Barrett, a superb and eminently qualified nominee."

Feinstein was not the only senator to come under fire for grilling Barrett. Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), the Senate's second ranking Democratic member, was also accused of belittling her faith when he asked the mother of seven if she considers herself an "Orthodox Catholic." Durbin, a Catholic, dismissed such criticism because Barrett's scholarship on the intersection of faith and the law invited the scrutiny.

"She has fashioned herself somewhat of an expert [on the intersection of faith and the judiciary] and I didn’t feel uncomfortable asking that question," he said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon Thursday.

Feinstein's office has not responded to multiple requests for comment by the Washington Free Beacon.

Rev. Jenkins called Barrett, who is nominated to serve on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, a woman of "integrity." He praised her legal scholarship, which he says should be the standard by which she is judged.

"Her experience as a clerk for Judge Laurence Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is of the highest order. So, too, is her scholarship in the areas of federal courts, constitutional law and statutory interpretation," he said. "I am not a legal scholar, but I have heard no one seriously challenge her impeccable legal credentials."

Barrett, who is nominated to serve on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, received a majority "well qualified" rating—the highest possible—from the American Bar Association.

Bill McMorris   Email Bill | Full Bio | RSS
Bill McMorris is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He joins the Beacon from the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, where he was managing editor of Old Dominion Watchdog. He was a 2010 Robert Novak Fellow with the Phillips Foundation, where he studied state pension shortfalls. His work has been featured on CNN, Fox News, The Economist, Colbert Report, and numerous print publications and radio stations. He lives in Alexandria, Va, with his wife and three daughters. His Twitter handle is @FBillMcMorris. His email address is mcmorris@freebeacon.com.

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