On the last day of October, Amy Barrett, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, was confirmed by the Senate to be a judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Although judicial confirmations are usually routine Senate business, many of President Trump’s nominees, such as Professor Barrett, have been subjected to unnecessary foot-dragging by Democrats. The partisan showboating against Professor Barrett was exceptionally discourteous and wrong, calling into question her devout Catholic faith as an impediment to her capabilities as a federal judge.
I joined 54 of my Senate colleagues in supporting Professor Barrett’s confirmation. Her faith is certainly no liability, as some would suggest, nor does it somehow invalidate her impressive legal career and credentials. To imply otherwise is a disservice to her qualifications and ignores Article 6 of our Constitution, which explicitly prohibits religious tests for any office.
It is important for President Trump to select judicial nominees who are committed to applying the law and not their own ideology. That did not seem to be the approach of the Obama Administration, in which a judge’s personal feelings were seen as an asset to his or her decision-making. President Obama advocated a so-called “empathy standard,” distorting the impartiality of our justice system. Simply put, our judges should not be swayed by a case’s potential political implications, and they should be even-handed in their application of the law.
Following Professor Barrett’s confirmation, the Senate went on to send another three highly qualified conservative judges to the circuit courts. Although these nominees were needlessly entangled in a days-long process because of opposition from Senate Democrats, they easily secured the votes for confirmation. Former Senate majority leader Harry Reid changed the Senate’s rules on federal judicial nominations in 2013 so President Obama and a Democratic-led Senate could put more liberal-minded jurists on the bench. Now that Senate Republicans have the votes to confirm President Trump’s nominees, we are working to restore the federal judiciary to its proper role. The courts should be in the business of upholding the Constitution and the rule of law.
Appointments to the federal appeals courts are some of the most lasting and consequential decisions of any president. After confirmation, these judges serve for life, surpassing multiple administrations. Many of President Trump’s judicial nominees are relatively young, with decades of service ahead of them. Those confirmed to circuit courts, such as the four nominees approved by the Senate this week, will have the final say on most cases. Second only to the Supreme Court in terms of rank, circuit courts weigh in on some of our country’s most pressing legal questions.
President Trump assumed office with a vacancy on the Supreme Court and more than 100 openings on the federal bench. He has sought to fill these circuit and district court positions with individuals who possess a clear understanding of the law and a judge’s duty to apply it fairly to all Americans. I am glad the Senate is prioritizing the confirmation of these outstanding nominees, just as it did with the approval of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.