The Courts

Sasse Warns Democrats Not to Target Barrett’s Faith

'Democrats are playing with fire here'

Sen. Ben Sasse meets with Judge Amy Coney Barrett Thursday / Getty Images

Republican senator Ben Sasse (Neb.) ripped Democrats for criticizing appellate judge Amy Coney Barrett's religious beliefs after he met with the Supreme Court nominee on Thursday.

Sasse called on Senate Democrats to engage with Barrett's judicial philosophy instead of resorting to attacks on her Catholic faith. The Nebraska senator has not forgotten the ugliness of Barrett's initial appearance before his committee when the Notre Dame law professor was selected for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

"Instead of arguing with Judge Barrett’s judicial philosophy, too many on the left are trying to belittle her accomplishments by attacking her faith," Sasse said. "It’s disgusting because it’s an attack on America’s core belief in religious liberty. It’s dumb because attacking a Catholic mom who happens to be an incredible lawyer, professor, and jurist is a losing strategy."

Sasse is a member of the Judiciary Committee charged with evaluating President Donald Trump's nominee. His criticism comes as Senate Republicans move quickly to confirm Barrett before the election. Sasse left the Thursday meeting convinced that Barrett is the best candidate to fill the High Court vacancy in the wake of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death.

Democrats previously attacked the devout Catholic's religious beliefs during Senate hearings in 2017. Barrett is not the only judicial nominee that has faced criticism for her faith. Committee Democrats Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Sen. Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), and Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.) have also criticized Trump appointees for their membership in Catholic groups. Feinstein, who famously told Barrett that the "dogma lives loudly within you" in 2017, has said publicly that she opposes Barrett's elevation to the Supreme Court.

"Judge Barrett has been an outspoken critic of a woman’s right to choose, reportedly calling Roe v. Wade ‘barbaric,’" Feinstein said in a statement. "Those statements, coupled with her record on the 7th Circuit, raise serious concerns about whether she would uphold the law."

Barrett's signature on an antiabortion ad in a South Bend, Ind., newspaper more than a decade ago is also certain to bring attention to how Barrett would approach the abortion issue on the Court. Sasse said he anticipates an equally contentious confirmation hearing this time around, but he also predicted that the public will walk away convinced of Barrett's qualifications for the job.

"The over-the-top smears are going to look really dumb to Americans when they hear Judge Barrett speak at her confirmation hearing," he said.

The freshman senator also took issue with liberal proposals to pack the Court if the Republican-controlled Senate moves forward with Barrett's nomination. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) has said that court packing and other legislative changes to the judiciary are "on the table," while Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his running mate, California senator Kamala Harris, have consistently refused to directly answer whether they would support such measures.

During the first presidential debate, Biden declined to answer whether he supported adding justices to the Court when asked, and Harris said that the issue would be dealt with "later."

Sasse said his Democratic counterparts are "playing with fire" by entertaining such measures. Packing the courts and doing away with the filibuster could undermine lawmakers' advise and consent role in appointments.

"My Democratic colleagues should think carefully before they rush to make Congress obsolete," he said. "Democrats are playing with fire here, and Joe Biden has an obligation to answer this question."