Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) called out Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday for questioning nominees about the particulars of their religious beliefs.
"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. That is flatly inconsistent with at least the spirit, if not also the letter, of at least two provisions of the Constitution," Lee said. "I cannot fathom why this would ever make sense to do."
Lee pointed out that there was a time in which people might have been asked in a job interview or a congressional hearing whether they believed in God or were a Christian, an approach he said was equally as troublesome.
"When they might have been asked those, it was not for a good reason, because there is never a good reason in a public setting to ask that question, save, perhaps, if you just want to make sure that that person's religious beliefs do not require that person to betray the judicial oath. Beyond that, I can't fathom a circumstance in which that would be appropriate," Lee continued.
"So I would ask Sen. [Mazie] Hirono [D., Hawaii], 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? Ever?" Lee asked his colleague on the committee.
Hirono responded that the questions asked about a nominee's religious beliefs concern whether they can be objective.
"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's very strongly held religious views, as well as any other views, 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, etc. etc.,'" Hirono responded.
Lee responded that a question about whether a nominee considered something a "sin" was asked this week. Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) asked D.C. Circuit Court nominee Neomi Rao on Tuesday about her beliefs on "sin" as they relate to homosexual relationships.
Last month, the Senate rebuked Hirono and Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) for questioning judicial nominee Brian Buescher about his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal service organization.
In September 2017, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) told Amy Coney Barrett, now a judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, that reading her past speeches revealed how the Catholic "dogma lives loudly" within her.
Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy adviser with the Judicial Crisis Network, thanked Lee "for putting Senate Democrats, who have demonstrated hate towards religion and people of faith, on notice for bullying President Trump's judicial nominees."
"These smear tactics have no place in a judicial confirmation, or anywhere else," Severino said in a statement.