Hypocritical Oath

Does the GOP have a litmus test for judges or doesn’t it?

Conservatives around the country are pressing judicial candidates to answer questions about their personal religious practices and views on abortion, gay marriage, school prayer, and other controversies likely to come before their courts. But in Congress last fall, when Democrats attempted to probe Supreme Court nominees’ stances on these same issues, the GOP cried foul. No one, they said, should apply a single-issue “litmus test” to discern a nominee’s qualifications for the court. Should we count on seeing these indignant senators and conservative leaders push the GOP to stop holding state judges to a different standard?

“I have no litmus test.… In my interviews with any judge, I never ask their personal opinion on the subject of abortion.” —President George W. Bush

“A person’s personal beliefs are irrelevant, or should be irrelevant, in terms of how they’re going to approach their job as a judge.” —Attorney General Alberto Gonzales

“Politicians must let voters know what they think about issues before the election. Judges should not.” —Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.)

“What judges do limits what judicial nominees may discuss.… Nominees may not be able to answer questions that seek hints, forecasts, or previews about how they would rule on particular issues.… No matter how badly senators want to know things, judicial nominees are limited in what they may discuss.” —Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)

“Nominees shouldn’t be expected to pre-commit to ruling on certain issues in a certain way, nor should senators ask nominees to pledge to rule on cases in a particular way.” —Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa)

“If you pledge today to rule a certain way on an issue, how can parties to future cases possibly feel that they would ever have a fair day in court?” —Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas)

“We should not have a litmus test on judges.” —Senator Wayne Allard (R-Colo.)

“We must never abandon our ideal of unbiased judges, judges who rule fairly without regard to politics.” —Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)

“Let me suggest that a member who votes against this nominee because he will not state his position on a specific case or ruling is voting against an unbiased judiciary. In other words, they want a bias in the Court to fit their political beliefs.” —Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho)


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  • Michael Beckel is a reporter at the Center for Public Integrity, where he focuses on the influence of money on elections.