A Brief History of Kamala Harris and the Knights of Columbus

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Alexandra DeSanctis
·4 min read
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During their debate earlier this week, Vice President Mike Pence put California senator Kamala Harris on the spot for her attacks on the religious views of several recent judicial nominees — a topic on which, thus far, Harris has yet to receive any press questions.

“Senator, I know one of our judicial nominees you actually attacked, because they were a member of the Catholic Knights of Columbus,” Pence said, “just because the Knights of Columbus holds pro-life views. My hope is that when the hearing takes place that Judge Amy Coney Barrett will be respectfully voted and confirmed onto the Supreme Court of the United States.”

In response to Pence’s accusation, Harris said, “Joe Biden and I are both people of faith, and it’s insulting to suggest that we would knock anyone for their faith, and in fact, Joe, if elected, will be only the second practicing Catholic as president of the United States.”

There is plenty to be said about Biden and his Catholicism, some of which I’ve already discussed elsewhere on NRO. But what really deserves scrutinizing about Harris’s reply is her lie about not having “knocked anyone” for their faith.

In a recent piece, I chronicled many times over the last three years when Democratic senators questioned judicial nominees about their faith, suggesting in various forms that a candidate’s Catholic or Christian beliefs might render them unfit to serve on the bench.

Several of those questions were posed by Harris herself, focusing especially on Catholic candidates. In late 2018, for instance, Harris grilled Brian Buescher, nominated to be a federal district judge in Nebraska, about his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization with more than 2 million members worldwide who conduct charitable work. Here’s one of Harris’s written questions to Buescher:

Since 1993, you have been a member of the Knights of Columbus, an all-male society comprised primarily of Catholic men. In 2016, Carl Anderson, leader of the Knights of Columbus, described abortion as “a legal regime that has resulted in more than 40 million deaths.” Mr. Anderson went on to say that “abortion is the killing of the innocent on a massive scale.” Were you aware that the Knights of Columbus opposed a woman’s right to choose when you joined the organization?

She went on to ask whether Buescher was “aware that the Knights of Columbus opposed marriage equality when you joined the organization” and whether he had “ever, in any way, assisted with or contributed to advocacy against women’s reproductive rights.”

Harris posed these and other similar questions to Paul Matey and Peter Phipps, Catholic nominees who, like Buescher, are members of the Knights. Among the questions she posed to Matey based on his involvement in the Knights were:

* Do you agree with Mr. Anderson’s description of abortion as “the killing of the innocent on a massive scale”?

* Do you agree with Mr. Anderson that legal abortion in the United States has “resulted in more than 40 million deaths”?

* Do you believe that a fetus is entitled to any protection under the U.S. Constitution?

To Phipps, Harris posed the following questions:

* Since 2011, you have been a member of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization limited only to men. The Knights of Columbus state that they “[defend] the right to life of every human being, from the moment of conception to natural death.” As a member of this organization, do you carry out this mission?

* If confirmed to the bench, will you defend the right to life of every human being, from the moment of conception to natural death?

* Must you swear an oath in order to join this organization? If so, what is that oath?

* When your group’s organizational values conflict with litigants’ constitutional rights, how can litigants in your court expect a fair hearing?

To be sure, Kamala Harris has never explicitly stated that Catholics shouldn’t be permitted to hold public office. She likely doesn’t believe that, and no one has accused her of it. The trouble comes when she suspects that a Catholic might actually believe what the Church teaches about marriage or abortion. What Harris’s narrow-minded worldview overlooks is that a judge need not be religious at all to realize that Roe v. Wade was based on anti-constitutional legal reasoning.

Instead of focusing on the judicial philosophies that might guide a judge’s decisions on the bench, Harris has chosen on several occasions to drill down on nominees’ religious faith, motivated by the bigoted belief that membership in a Catholic organization is a cause for suspicion and possible disqualification.

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