By Tom Venzor
Judges typically fly below the political radar screen. While judges sometimes steal the political spotlight (e.g., [anticipated] vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court during a presidential election), political commentary usually takes little interest in judges. This seems to hold true with the appointment of lower federal court judges. Unlike vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court, vacancies on lower federal courts garner little to no attention in political news cycles—but not always.
Recently, President Donald Trump nominated, among others, two individuals to federal judgeships: Amy Barrett and Steve Grasz. The confirmation hearing processes reveal the sustaining presence of anti-Catholic prejudice and animus toward pro-life values, respectively.
Amy Barrett and Living the Dogma. Amy Barrett has served as professor of law at the University of Notre Dame Law School since 2002. Prior, Barrett served as a high-level law clerk and practiced at a law firm. As a law clerk, Barrett served for Justice Antonin Scalia at the U.S. Supreme Court. Barrett is married to her husband, Jesse. Together, they have seven children. Barrett is also a practicing Catholic.
On May 8, President Trump nominated Barrett to serve as a circuit judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. (Notably, there are 13 federal courts of appeals, and these courts rank second only to SCOTUS.)
Barrett had her confirmation hearing Sept. 6 before the United States Senate Judiciary Committee. During the hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked questions of Barrett, including hostile questions about her Catholic faith.
Sen. Feinstein voiced concerns that Barrett would be unable to separate her Catholic faith from her legal analysis, especially regarding abortion and same-sex marriage. Sen. Feinstein stated: “Why is it that so many of us on this side have this very uncomfortable feeling that dogma and law are two different things, and I think whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different…. And I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern.”
Sen. Feinstein’s comment to Barrett that the “dogma lives loudly within you” elicited immediate responses. Political commentators—Catholic and non-Catholic alike—voiced serious concerns with Sen. Feinstein’s anti-Catholicism. Many Catholic commentators lauded the statement as a badge of honor.
Barrett was recently confirmed by the Senate. Nevertheless, Barrett’s process is a reminder that anti-Catholic bigotry is alive and well, and it is maintained by high-ranking people of influence.
Steve Grasz and Pro-Life ‘Extremism.’ Steve Grasz is a Nebraskan who was recently nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Currently, Grasz is a lawyer with Husch Blackwell in Omaha. Prior, Grasz served as Nebraska’s chief deputy attorney general for nearly 12 years. During which, Grasz litigated cases in state and federal courts, including Stenberg v. Carhart in which Grasz defended Nebraska’s ban on partial-birth abortion.
Grasz had his nomination hearing Nov. 1. Before the hearing, the American Bar Association—the nation’s leading association for attorneys—rated Grasz as “not qualified” for the federal judiciary. The ABA alleged concerns about bias and prejudice that would inhibit Grasz from acting as a neutral arbiter. Specifically, they cited an article Grasz wrote in 1999, arguing that there is no constitutional right to a kill a partially-born human being. The ABA stated that this article, among other instances, demonstrated that “Mr. Grasz’ passionately-held social agenda appeared to overwhelm and obscure the ability to exercise dispassionate and unbiased judgment.”
During the hearing, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) declared Grasz’ views and work defending Nebraska’s partial birth abortion ban as “extreme anti-choice views.”
Notably, political figures on both sides of the aisle have vouched for Grasz’ legal abilities, undermining the ABA’s ideologically-driven assessment.
While the confirmation vote remains, Grasz’ nomination process reveals the lengths to which pro-abortion zealots will go when they sense their “golden calf” of political rights is under attack.
The tale of these two judicial nominations is a reminder of the importance of judicial nominations. As faithful citizens, we are called to give attention even to political activity that flies under the radar. As engraved on our State Capitol building: “The salvation of the state is watchfulness in the citizen.”