Democrats from the Senate Judiciary Committee grilled President Trump’s nominee as U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Missouri Wednesday, focusing on her Catholic faith and record of pro-life advocacy.
The Democrats present called into question Sarah E. Pitlyk’s ability to apply the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide, given her religious views and pro-life record.
“How can you ensure that a litigant in your courtroom seeking to vindicate her right to an abortion could trust your impartiality given your zealous and passionate advocacy?” asked Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat.
“You’ve been more than just an advocate for the anti-choice agenda. You filed a brief arguing that life begins at conception. You’ve defended Iowa’s abortion ban. You worked to defund Planned Parenthood,” Blumenthal said.
“I stand in a long line of other people who have sat at this table who have had history in advocacy, or in an issue-related advocacy, or in politics and who have become very distinguished jurists,” said Ms. Pitlyk, a pro-life lawyer and former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.
Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii also pressed Pitlyk on her representation of pro-life whistleblower David Daleiden, the founder of the Center for Medical Progress who in 2015 published undercover videos of Planned Parenthood officials appearing to negotiate the sale of aborted fetal body parts.
“My personal views have no place in my role as a judge,” Pitlyk told Hirono.
In their probe, the Democrat senators also called attention to the American Bar Association’s decision to rate Ms. Pitlyk “not qualified” for the post, claiming she does not possess the requisite trial or litigation experience to sit on the federal bench.
“As we go out to hire people to represent us to engage them to represent us, the first thing we look for is experience. You’re asking for a lifetime appointment as a trial court judge. There are many things that your background suggests you would be excellent at. This is not one of them,” said Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat from Illinois.
The nominee, who graduated from Yale Law School in 2008 and currently works on constitutional and civil rights issues for the Thomas More Society, highlighted her clerkship for Justice Kavanaugh when he sat on the federal appeals court in the District of Columbia as well as her experience at several law firms prior to joining the Thomas More Society.
Republican committee members declared that the ABA rating was biased, and Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, said the ABA has been a “partisan mouthpiece” for Democrats when rating Trump’s judicial nominees.
One circuit court pick in 2017 said he was interrogated about his views on abortion during the ABA’s evaluation process, which caused Republican lawmakers to be highly skeptical of the group’s claims of impartiality.
The ABA rating of “not qualified” for Ms. Pitlyk reflects the group’s hostility toward her judicial record defending pro-life causes, said Senator Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, adding to the nominee, “I’m troubled for what they have done.”
The Democrats’ assault on Ms. Pitlyk recalled similar treatment dealt out to Amy Coney Barrett in 2017 when President Trump named her to serve as a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
During the confirmation process, several Democratic Senators interrogated Barrett on her Catholic faith, suggesting that such religious devotion was an obstacle to judicial service.
“When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). “And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country.”
For his part, Senator Durbin criticized Barrett’s earlier use of the term “orthodox Catholic,” saying it unfairly maligns Catholics who do not hold certain positions about abortion or the death penalty.
“Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?” he asked her, before asking her what she thought of Pope Francis.
Similarly, in December 2018 pro-choice Democrats from the Senate Judiciary Committee grilled U.S. District Court nominee Brian C. Buescher for his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic charitable organization, suggesting that this affiliation might disqualify him for judgeship.
In reviewing Mr. Buescher’s candidacy for the District of Nebraska, Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) asked whether belonging to the Knights of Columbus could prevent Mr. Buescher from hearing cases “fairly and impartially.”
The senators suggested that the Knights’ opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage could cloud the candidate’s vision and impair his judgment.
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.
For her part, 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 his response.