On the Senate floor yesterday evening, Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) led an effort to reaffirm the constitutional clause forbidding the use of religious tests for public officeholders. The resolution was agreed to by unanimous consent.
The effort was prompted by recent questioning of a Catholic judicial nominee, Brian Buescher, over his membership in the Knights of Columbus. Democratic senators Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) and Kamala Harris (Calif.) asked Buescher whether his Catholic faith would prevent him from serving as an impartial judge, and Hirono went so far as to demand that he drop his membership in the Knights and recuse himself from any case on which the group has taken a position.
“Expressing 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 Unites States,” the resolution read in part. It also quoted John F. Kennedy who, as a Democratic senator, said of the anti-Catholic bigotry expressed toward his presidential candidacy:
For while this it year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew or a Quaker or a Unitarian or a Baptist. . . . Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you, until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.
The fact that Democratic senators agreed unanimously to back this resolution — restating the promise that religious liberty is at the heart of the American experiment, both in the First Amendment’s protections and in the constitutional prohibition on religious tests — matters tremendously.
I suggested last week that the opposition to Buescher on the grounds of his membership in the Knights could perhaps best be understood as a trial run for a Democratic effort to prevent the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, should President Trump have the chance to nominate another justice, and should he choose her.
This resolution is a concrete promise that any similar religious tests applied to Barrett, or to any other judicial nominee on the basis of his or her religious beliefs, ought to be out of bounds and decried as a violation of the Constitution.