Editorial: Jackson is solid on the law, so Republicans resort to religious litmus tests

St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Board, St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

Published in Religious News

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is clear about forbidding Congress from passing laws that mix the business of the state with matters of religion. Yet Republican lawmakers, many of whom are lawyers and constitutional scholars, seem intent on delving into matters of religion anyway from their Capitol Hill and statehouse pulpits.

A major warning sign of Republicans’ refusal to honor the Establishment Clause was when Missouri Gov. Mike Parson listed sharing his own “Christian values” as a requirement for his nominee as state health director. Now comes Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina questioning Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson about her faith during this week’s Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings.

Graham launched into a series of rapid-fire questions that started with this one: “What faith are you?” Jackson seemed, quite appropriately, taken aback. Aside from being none of Graham’s business, it had nothing to do with decisions she would make on the Supreme Court.

Graham was trying as hard as he could to establish a litmus test of faith upon which to judge Jackson. It was inappropriate by any standard, including Graham’s own. But this was his payback moment for a quip that Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein made during the 2020 confirmation hearings of now-Justice Amy Coney Barrett about her well-known conservative Catholic faith.

“The dogma lives loudly within you,” Feinstein said — also inappropriately.

It should have been irrelevant during Barrett’s confirmation hearing, and it should be irrelevant during Jackson’s beyond serving as a water cooler topic of discussion. So, what is the point?


The goal seems to be, somehow, to entrap or embarrass Jackson, or find ways to trip her up, so Republicans can explain to their constituents that this isn’t a question about her race or gender but rather about her judicial philosophy. She’s not making it easy for them.

In response to Graham’s intrusive question about her faith, Jackson said simply, “Personally faith is very important. But as you know, there’s no religious test in the Constitution under Article Six …” to which Graham interjected, “And none with me.” Then he persisted with the religion questions, including asking her to rate on a scale of one to 10 how faithful she is.

“Senator,” she responded with a quiet sigh, “I am reluctant to talk about my faith in this way just because I want to be mindful of the need for the public to have confidence in my ability to separate out my personal views.”

In other words, judges are supposed to filter out personal biases — including their religious beliefs — when interpreting the law. If only members of Congress could do likewise.


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