Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) used a confirmation hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee to question a judicial nominee about her views on the “sinfulness” of same-sex marriage.
Booker, who recently announced his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, put the questions to Neomi Rao during a February 5 hearing.
Rao has been nominated by President Trump to replace Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Rao currently serves as the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and has taught law at George Mason University. She previously served in the White House counsel’s office under president George H.W. Bush and as a staffer for the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Citing the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down state laws prohibiting homosexual intercourse, Booker quoted an article in which Rao said the decision “eschewed older traditions in favor of an emerging awareness of the meaning and the scope of liberty.”
The senator asked what Rao’s views were on how the Supreme Court should have decided past cases related to the criminalization of same-sex relationships.
After she affirmed the precedent set by the court’s decisions, Booker then asked Rao “Are gay relationships, in your opinion, immoral?”
Rao questioned the relevance of the question, given her commitment to following the clear precedent of the law. Booker replied that the personal opinion of the nominee was important and that to believe gay relationships were immoral would be similar to believing “African-American relationships are immoral.”
After affirming that she did not think that gay relationships are immoral, Booker pressed Rao, asking if she believed they are “a sin.” Rao replied that her “personal views on any of these subjects are things (she) would put to one side” and that she would follow precedent when making rulings.
“So you’re not willing to say here if you believe it is sinful for two men to be married?” Booker asked.
Rao again stated that she intended to follow all Supreme Court precedent when it came to making decisions on the Court of Appeals, and that she would put any of her personal views “to one side.” She declined to comment on whether she believes gay marriage to be sinful.
Rao has not publicly commented on her religious beliefs. She is the daughter of parents who immigrated to the United States from India. President Trump announced her nomination at the White House’s celebration to mark Diwali, a major Hindu religious festival.
Booker also asked Rao if she had ever employed an “LGBTQ law clerk.”
The nominee reminded the senator that she had never previously served as a judge, and so had never employed law clerks. She did say she did not question her staff about their sexual orientation.
“I take people as they come,” Rao said. “Irrespective of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, I treat people as individuals.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) took offense with Booker’s questioning, particularly the question of whether Rao believes that homosexuality is a sin.
Cruz said that there is “a growing pattern among Senate Democrats of hostility to religious faith,” said Cruz, adding that he was “deeply troubled” by what Booker had asked Rao.
“In my view [a nominee’s view of sinfulness] has no business in this committee. Article VI of the Constitution says there shall be no religious test for any public office,” said Cruz. He reminded the committee that “we have [already] seen Senate Democrats attack what they characterized as religious dogma,” alluding to the questioning given to now-Judge Amy Coney Barrett during her confirmation hearing.
The Senate Judiciary Committee should not be a “theological court of inquisition,” said Cruz, and should instead focus on a nominee’s record, not her religious beliefs.
The American Bar Association said on Monday that they rated Rao to be “well qualified” for the position.
Booker was not the only member of the Senate to question Rao about LGBT rights during the confirmation hearing.
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) also questioned Rao about her beliefs regarding the rights of LGBT persons. In response, Rao stated that she believes everyone, regardless of sexuality, is deserving of dignity and that she would follow legal precedent.
Hirono, together with Senator Kamala Harris, (D-CA), had previously questioned judicial nominee Brian Beuscher over his membership of the Knights of Columbus.
Last month Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) proposed and passed a unanimous consent resolution in the Senate condemning religious tests for candidates for office. Hirono called that resolution part of an “alt-right agenda.”
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