Senate Rebukes Harris and Hirono on Knights of Columbus

On Wednesday the Senate approved a resolution that rebuked two Democratic senators for questioning judicial nominees about their membership in the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal service organization.

The resolution, introduced by Sen. Ben Sasse (R., Neb.), affirmed "the sense of the Senate that disqualifying a nominee to federal office on the basis of membership in the Knights of Columbus violates the Constitution of the United States." The Senate proceeded to affirm the resolution without objection.

Last month, Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D., Hawaii), both on the Senate Judiciary Committee, questioned a judicial nominee about his membership in the Knights of Columbus and whether it would affect his ability to fairly judge cases. Brian Buescher was nominated to serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska.

Hirono sent written questions claiming "the Knights of Columbus has taken a number of extreme positions. For example, it was reportedly one of the top contributors to California’s Proposition 8 campaign to ban same-sex marriage." She also asked if Buescher would quit the group if confirmed "to avoid any appearance of bias."

Harris described the Knights as "an all-male society" in her questions, and also asked if Buescher knew the Knights "opposed a woman’s right to choose" and were against "marriage equality" when he became a member.

Sasse's resolution also referenced the anti-Catholic bigotry Democratic president John F. Kennedy faced during his presidency, and cited the Knights of Columbus's "proud tradition of standing against the forces of prejudice and oppression such as the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi Germany."

The resolution asked the Senate to express its sense "that disqualifying a nominee to federal office on the basis of membership in the Knights of Columbus violates Clause 3 of Article 6 of the Constitution of the United States which establishes that senators ‘shall be bound by oath or affirmation to support this Constitution[; but] no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.'"

Sasse urged his fellow senators to rebuke the anti-Catholic attacks against Buescher.

"If a senator has a problem with this resolution, you're probably in the wrong line of work because this is what America is. This is a super basic point, no religious test. If someone has a problem with this resolution, what other parts of the Constitution are you against: freedom of the press, women's right to vote, freedom of speech? This isn't hard. No religious test for serving on the federal bench. We should, in this body, rebuke these anti-Catholic attacks," Sasse said.

After the resolution was affirmed, the Nebraska senator said he would report back to Buescher "that he can ignore those questions that he received about whether or not he would resign his membership in the Knights of Columbus."