Testiness Over Religious (But Not Racial) Tests

As others have noted, Senate Democrats have been outraged by the charge in an ad run by a Republican group that by blocking all judicial nominees who agree with Catholic doctrine on abortion they have in effect created a religious test for judicial appointments. “As a person who was raised Catholic and is a practicing Catholic,” Sen. Durbin (D, Ill.) protested before the Senate Judiciary Committee,

I deeply resent this new line of attack. . . . Many Catholics who oppose abortion personally do not believe the laws of the land should prohibit abortion for all others in extreme cases involving rape, incest and the life and health of the mother.

Sen. Durbin appears to believe that his litmus test has nothing to do with religion: Catholics who do not oppose abortion are qualified to be judges; Catholics who do aren’t. (Durbin’s distinction between opposing abortion “personally” while not opposing it legally calls to mind the similar moral straddling of another Democratic senator from Illinois, Stephen A. Douglas.)

Durbin’s distinction would carry more force if he, or other Democrats, had ever been heard to dissent from the “disparate impact” theory of racial discrimination. Similarly, their offended outrage that anyone could think them capable of discrimination might elicit a more sympathetic hearing if Democrats had not made a habit of charging racism at every opportunity (and then some).

Just today, for example, the Washington Post quotes from a letter sent by the 11 Democratic Texas state senators currently hiding out in New Mexico to President Bush claiming that the Republican effort to end the underrepresentation of Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation “smacks of blatant racism by Republican leaders….” These worthies no doubt think it always and everwhere unfair for racial or ethnic minorites to be underrepresented, but it’s perfectly O.K. for a majority to underrepresented, at least as long as the majority is Republican.

UPDATE – Sen. Tom Harkin (D, Ia) was asked in an interview what he thought of a question Sen. Orrin Hatch (R, Ut) had asked relating to a witness’s religion. Harkin replied:

Well, what I objected to, I just heard this the other day, Hatch asking a witness what his religion was. I’ve been in Congress 29 years, and I’ve never heard anyone ever ask anyone what their religion was. To me, that’s just not right. You should not ask people their religion. And then (Hatch) said, are you a practicing Catholic, or, do you adhere to the faith, something like that. I mean, it’s so far out of bounds, it has no place in our deliberations…. There shouldn’t be any religious questions or religious tests at all.

It is clear that Sen. Harkin and his Democratic colleagues agree that Public Law 94-251, which “prohibits [the Bureau of the Census] from asking a question on religious affiliation on a mandatory basis,” is right, good, and sound public policy. Religion, they clearly believe, is “so far out of bounds” that it should never be the subject or object of official action.

They used to feel the same way about race. Too bad they changed their minds.

Say What?