Democratic senators on Wednesday defended their decision to ask President Trump’s Catholic judicial nominees about their beliefs, saying it’s fair to ask whether they can separate their religious faiths from their jobs as judges.
“It is never inappropriate for a member of this committee to ask whether a nominee for a lifetime position for the federal judiciary can rule fairly whatever their personal affiliations might be,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat who’s frequently questioned nominees’ religious backgrounds.
The issue came to the fore Wednesday as the Senate Judiciary Committee held a confirmation hearing on Peter Joseph Phipps, a judge for the Western District of Pennsylvania who is now nominated to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
During his prior confirmation process for the district seat, Judge Phipps was prodded on his membership in the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal charity.
Brian Buescher, a district court judge from Nebraska, faced similar questioning last year, as did Judge Paul Matey, who now sits on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court, the National Review reported.
With Judge Phipps back before the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican, said those kinds of inquiries had to stop.
“What’s happening in this committee is absolutely nuts,” he said.
But Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, said religious beliefs have to end when a judge puts on his or her black robe.
“It’s fair for people here to test that robing room rule,” Mr. Whitehouse said.
Judge Phipps said he takes it even more seriously, saying it’s not just when he walks into a courtroom, but the moment he was sworn in as a judge that he set personal beliefs aside.
“It’s before the robing room — it’s when I took that oath,” he told the lawmakers.
If confirmed, Judge Phipps will be Mr. Trump’s fourth appointed judge confirmed to the 3rd U.S. Circuit. He was nominated by the president in 2018 for his district court seat and has currently served in that position for roughly six months.
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