The Senate voted Wednesday to confirm Brian C. Buescher as U.S. District Judge in Nebraska after the nominee had been pilloried by pro-choice Democrats from the Senate Judiciary Committee last December for his membership in the Knights of Columbus.
In their examination of the candidacy of Mr. Buescher for the district court, Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) inquired whether belonging to the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic charitable organization, could prevent the appointee from hearing cases “fairly and impartially.”
The senators especially suggested that the Knights’ opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage could impair the candidate’s judgment.
Senator Harris asked Buescher whether he was aware that the Knights of Columbus “opposed a woman’s right to choose” and were against “marriage equality” when he joined the organization.
“The Knights of Columbus does not have the authority to take personal political positions on behalf of all of its approximately two million members,” Buescher said in reply.
For her part, Sen. Hirono said that the Knights of Columbus have taken “a number of extreme positions,” explicitly mentioning the Knights’ support for “California’s Proposition 8 campaign to ban same-sex marriage.”
Another pro-choice senator, Cory Booker (D-NJ), criticized Mr. Buescher’s overt opposition to abortion when he was running for Nebraska attorney general in the Republican primary election.
“Why should a litigant in your courtroom expect to get a fair hearing from an impartial judge in a case involving abortion rights?” Sen. Booker asked.
In his introduction to Wednesday’s vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recalled that the Constitution barred the use of a religious litmus test for federal posts.
“I can’t believe I need to repeat it here in the U.S. Capitol, but there is nothing about living out one’s faith that is disqualifying for public service. To the contrary, what the Constitution does forbid is imposing any kind of religious test for public office,” McConnell said.
Article VI of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from considering a person’s faith when assessing fitness to hold federal office. This clause is part of the original Constitution and has been a bedrock principle since the founding of the Republic.
The Senate confirmed Buescher by a vote of 51-40, with nine senators abstaining. While the vote followed party lines, several presidential candidates chose not to vote, namely: Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
Prior to the vote, Sen. McConnell suggested that the real “negative bombshell” disqualifying Buescher was that he “is a practicing Catholic.”
“My goodness. Imagine that, in the United States of America: a person of faith, serving in government,” McConnell quipped.
Regarding the “extreme views” of the Knights of Columbus, McConnell remarked that they are “known among other things for their love of their Catholic faith, their unparalleled commitment to charitable work, and for hosting barbecues and pancake breakfasts.”
Following Mr. Buescher’s hazing by pro-choice Democrats, several commentators rushed to the defense of the nominee.
“This is the kind of thuggish behavior we expect from third world dictators, not United States Senators,” said Ken Blackwell, a former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
“That this attack on Catholics comes from the party of John F. Kennedy, who was proudly a Knight of Columbus, is particularly shocking and egregious,” he said.
The archbishop of Philadelphia also decried the anti-Catholic bigotry underlying the hostile treatment of Buescher by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“The sheer ignorance, not to mention injustice, in the senators’ describing the Knights as ‘extreme’ would be baffling – if it weren’t part of pattern of bigoted thinking already sanctified by other senators like Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in her vulgar 2017 grilling of now-Judge Amy Coney Barrett (‘The dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s a concern’),” Archbishop Chaput wrote in a column last January.