Does a judge’s faith interfere with his or her ability to serve the public?

Dianne Feinstein made waves last week when she questioned a 7th Circuit appellate court justice nominee about her ability to keep her religious beliefs from interfering with her job.

As reported by The Atlantic, the nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, a Notre Dame law professor who had previously clerked for the late Antonin Scalia, was criticized by Feinstein for a paper Barrett had co-written as a law student. The paper examined the potential for one’s Catholic beliefs to intersect with the law, particularly in death penalty cases. Barrett wrote that a judge should not let religious leanings bear weight when the law was involved, and any judge who could not set their faith aside should recuse themselves.

But Feinstein was not convinced, and brought up hypothetical questions about how issues like abortion would be handled. In a continuously divisive political climate that often has roots in religion, questions about personal beliefs and the law are become more prominent. But should judicial nominees have their religious leanings held against them?


Garrett Epps, professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Baltimore; he covers the Supreme Court for “The Atlantic”