The Senate’s Recent Grilling of a Catholic Nominee Raises Painful Jewish Memories

January 18, 2019 | Mitchell Rocklin
About the author: Rabbi Mitchell Rocklin is the academic director and dean of Tikvah’s new Lobel Center for Jewish Classical Education. He is also director of the Jewish classical education concentration track at the University of Dallas.

During the confirmation hearings for Brian Buescher, a nominee for a federal judgeship, Senators Kamala Harris and Mazie Hirono questioned his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal and philanthropic organization. Hirono went so far as to propose that, if confirmed, Buescher should resign from the group “to avoid any appearance of bias” and “recuse [himself] from all cases [on] which the Knights of Columbus has taken a position.” Mitchell Rocklin explains why such notions should raise Jewish hackles:

Article VI of the Constitution guarantees that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” This set America apart from Britain, which banned Jews from serving in Parliament until well into the 19th century, [and Catholics for nearly as long]. In the new country, Jews were able to hold government offices in ways that had been impossible in the Old World. This tradition should not be sacrificed simply because a few senators want to score political points. . . .

Indeed, the very first public Supreme Court nomination process, held in 1916, was an anti-Semitic spectacle in which various figures attempted to smear the high court’s first Jewish nominee, Louis Brandeis. A Boston politician called Brandeis “a slimy fellow” capable of using “his smoothness and intrigue, together with his Jewish instinct,” to attain power. The former president and future chief justice William Howard Taft called Brandeis “utterly unscrupulous” and “a man of infinite cunning,” warning that he “has adopted Zionism, favors the new Jerusalem, and has metaphorically been re-circumcised.”. . .

Senators Hirono and Harris ought to consider the words of Haym Solomon, the Jewish immigrant and Revolutionary War hero: “I am a Jew; it is my own nation; I do not despair that we shall obtain every other privilege that we aspire to enjoy along with our fellow citizens.”

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