The Senate on Wednesday voted to confirm Brian Buescher, a judicial nominee grilled by two senators last year over his membership in the Knights of Columbus. Buescher will now become a U.S. District Judge in Nebraska.
“I can’t believe I need to repeat it here in the U.S. Capitol, but there is nothing about living out one’s faith that is disqualifying for public service. To the contrary, what the Constitution does forbid is imposing any kind of religious test for public office,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kent.) stated on the Senate Floor on Wednesday before the vote.
The Senate on Wednesday voted 51-40 to confirm Buescher, with nine senators not voting. The vote fell along party lines, with Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) voting No.
Several presidential candidates, Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) did not vote.
During his confirmation hearings, Buescher faced pointed questions over his membership in the Knights of Columbus, and over the organization’s “extreme” opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, by U.S. Senators Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Kamala Harris.
A series of written questions sent by Sen. Hirono to Buescher in December stated that the Knights taken “extreme” positions including supporting California’s Proposition 8 in 2008, a successful ballot initiative to overturn same-sex marriage.
Sen. Hirono asked Buescher if he would end his membership in the Knights “to avoid any appearance of bias,” and if he would “recuse” himself “from all cases in which the Knights of Columbus has taken a position”.
Sen. Harris said the Knights opposed a woman’s “right to choose” and asked Buescher if he knew about that stance when he joined, calling the Knights “an all-male society comprised primarily of Catholic men.” She also asked the nominee if he agreed with Supreme Knight Carl Anderson’s previous statements that abortion is “the killing of the innocent on a massive scale” which has “resulted in more than 40 million deaths”.
A spokesperson for the Knights said the hostile questions hearkened back to a “sad history of anti-Catholic bigotry” in the U.S.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia also rebuked the questioning in his weekly column on Jan. 9, writing that that “[t]he sheer ignorance, not to mention injustice, in the senators’ describing the Knights as “extreme” would be baffling – if it weren’t part of pattern of bigoted thinking already sanctified by other senators like Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in her vulgar 2017 grilling of now-Judge Amy Coney Barrett (“The dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s a concern”).”
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) also defended Buescher in a July 18 statement, saying that “[t]his has been a long process and we’ve had to fight everything from political smears to outright anti-Catholic bigotry.” On Wednesday, he called the opposition to Buescher’s confirmation, along with the questioning of the religious beliefs of other nominees, a “weird rebirth of McCarthyism,” according to Jason Calvi of EWTN News Nightly.
In the Senate on Wednesday, Sen. McConnell noted, tongue-in-cheek, that the “negative bombshell” on the nominee was that he “is a practicing Catholic.”
“My goodness. Imagine that, in the United States of America: a person of faith, serving in government,” McConnell said.
The Knights of Columbus are “known among other things for their love of their Catholic faith, their unparalleled commitment to charitable work, and for hosting barbecues and pancake breakfasts,” he said, in response to claims of the Knights’ “extreme” views.