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Sen. Dianne Feinstein draws criticism for questioning judicial nominee about her Catholic faith

(Reuters/Aaron P. Bernstein)Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) asks a question as former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testifies about potential Russian interference in the presidential election before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., U.S. May 8, 2017.

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein drew criticism from prominent religious figures, university leaders and academics for questioning judicial nominee Amy Coney Barrett about her Catholic faith during her confirmation hearing last week.

During the Senate hearing, Feinstein asked Barrett, who is being considered for a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, about what impact her faith would have on her interpretation of the law.

The senator pointed to Barrett's speeches in the committee hearing to express her concern that the nominee's decisions would be affected by Catholic dogma.

"When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that's of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for, for years in this country," Feinstein said.

Barrett is a law professor at the University of Notre Dame and had served as a clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia at the Supreme Court.

In a public letter to Feinstein, Notre Dame President John Jenkins castigated the senator for her line of questioning directed at the judicial nominee.

"It is chilling to hear from a United States Senator that this might now disqualify someone from service as a federal judge," he wrote, as reported by CBN News.

"I am one in whose heart 'dogma lives loudly,' as it has for centuries in the lives of many Americans, some of whom have given their lives in service to this nation. Indeed, it lived loudly in the hearts of those who founded our nation as one where citizens could practice their faith freely and without apology," he added.

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, expressed his disappointment with the hearing, noting that the senators had to question Barrett's fitness to serve due to her faith instead of considering her professional achievements.

On Friday, Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber wrote a letter to Feinstein, saying the line of questioning Barrett received were inconsistent with the "principle set forth in the Constitution's 'no religious test' clause."

Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman suggested that Feinstein "should acknowledge that her questions resonated with historic anti-Catholicism, retract them and apologize."

At the hearing, Feinstein was joined by Democratic Senators Al Franken and Dick Durbin, who questioned Barrett if she was an "orthodox Catholic" and how her faith might affect her decisions as a federal judge.

In an open letter to Durbin, Catholic League President Bill Donohue explained that orthodox Catholic is a term that is used to refer to those who accept the teachings of the Catholic Church. But it does not include those who reject the Church's tenets, including its stance that abortion is the intentional killing of a human being.

Donohue pointed out that Barrett had told the committee that it would never be appropriate for judges to impose their religious convictions on cases before them.

At the end of his letter, Donohue warned that the senators came "perilously close" to applying a religious test to Barrett, adding that it would have been "explicitly unconstitutional."

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