No Catholics Need Apply?

Dr. Malcolm Cross

Are Democrats using an old form of bigotry as a new reason for opposing President Trump’s judicial nominees?

Recently Democratic Senators Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Kamala Harris of California expressed opposition to the confirmation of one Brian Buescher, who was nominated to a federal district court judgeship in Nebraska.  They didn’t question his competence.  Rather, they questioned his religion.  Buescher is a Roman Catholic who apparently believes in his church teachings.  Worse, he’s a member of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic lay organization.

And this is not the first time that Senate Democrats have gone after a Trump judicial nominee on religious grounds.  In 2017 most Senate Democrats voted to reject the nomination of Notre Dame University Professor Amy Coney Barrett to an appellate court judgeship after Senator Diane Feinstein raised concerns that Barrett was too sincere in her devotion to her Catholic faith, as well as too involved in Catholic lay groups.  In both cases, the Democrats charge that Barrett and Buescher will put loyalty to the Catholic Church before their duties as federal judges, and thereby undermine abortion rights as well as other socially liberal policies the courts have established.  Evidently, the only Catholics whom Feinstein, Hirono, and Harris will trust with public office are those who don’t really believe the teachings of their church.

This charge that Catholics are unfit to hold public office because they may let their private faith undermine their devotion to their public duties has a long, if dishonorable, history.  And the Democrats have been on both sides of the issue.  In 1924, the Democratic National Convention, under the influence of the anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klan, rejected the bid of New York Governor Al Smith to be the first Catholic presidential nominee supported by a major party in the United States.

Yet the Democratic Party did, in fact, nominate Al Smith for President in 1928, as well as Catholic Massachusetts Senators John F. Kennedy in 1960 and John Kerry in 2004.  To date, the Republican Party has nominated no Catholic for President.

It is therefore ironic that Senate Democrats today are dredging up the same old charges of divided loyalties used to defeat Al Smith in 1928, yet which John F. Kennedy successfully rebutted in 1960.  But Hirono and Harris are nonetheless demanding that Buescher either promise to recuse himself from any case with issues on which the Catholic Church has taken a stand, or, better yet, leave the Knights of Columbus altogether.  

Given current Republican current of the Senate, it’s probable that Buescher will be confirmed, notwithstanding the objections of Hirono, Harris, and probably most of the other Democrats in the Senate as well.  Whether this will end the Democrats’ use of anti-Catholic bigotry remains to be seen, but in all probability the issue will resurface soon, especially if President Trump nominates Judge Barrett, whose appointment to the appellate judgeship was confirmed by the Senate over Democratic opposition, to the Supreme Court.

In 1928, Governor Smith lost lost the general election in one of the filthiest campaigns in American history, with hysterical anti-Catholic bigots charging that if elected President he would sell out the United States to the Pope in Rome.  In fact, a photo of Governor Smith standing at the entrance of the Holland Tunnel, which runs under the Hudson River and Connects New York with New Jersey, was circulated as proof that Smith had built a tunnel through which the armies of the Vatican could march from Rome to Washington to conquer America.  But given the Democratic campaign against Brett Kavanaugh last fall, it’s quite possible that what Senate Democrats will try to do to Judge Barrett, should she indeed be nominated, will make the campaign against Al Smith seem like a walk in the park.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a w


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