Diane Feinstein

 Associated Press/J. Scott Applewhite
The bigger question isn’t whether this distinguished professor doesn’t understand what her judicial oath requires, but rather whether Feinstein understands, as Nebraska’s Sen. Ben Sasse noted, that it is unlawful to impose a religious test on public officials.

In September 2017, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., suggested Judge Amy Coney Barrett is too Catholic to serve on the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

More than a year later, Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Kamala Harris, D-Calif., have renewed Feinstein’s line of attack, suggesting this month that attorney Brian Buescher may also be unfit to serve as a federal judge on account of his Catholic faith. The only difference between now and September 2017 is that Hirono and Harris are not so explicit in their bigotry.

In a set of written questions submitted to the nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska, Hirono and Harris zeroed in on Buescher’s affiliation with the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic charitable organization founded in 1882. Harris’ questions began by noting that Buescher has been a member of “an all-male society comprised primarily of Catholic men” since 1993. She then asked a number of leading questions, including, “Were you aware that the Knights of Columbus opposed a woman’s right to choose when you joined the organization?” and, “Have you ever, in any way, assisted with or contributed to advocacy against women’s reproductive rights?” and, “Were you aware that the Knights of Columbus opposed marriage equality when you joined the organization?”

This is not so bad, though you can see Harris is clearly using the Knights as a foil to argue Buescher’s adherence to basic Catholic doctrine renders him unfit to serve on the court. The real magic comes when Sen. Hirono takes the same tack, going after the judicial nominee for being a member of a group known best for its flashy uniforms and pancake breakfasts.

“The Knights of Columbus has taken a number of extreme positions,” writes the senator from Hawaii.

By “extreme,” she means the Knights oppose abortion and same-sex marriage. In other words, the group is adhering to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

Hirono then goes on to ask several related questions, including,

“If confirmed, do you intend to end your membership with this organization to avoid any appearance of bias?” and, “If confirmed, will you recuse yourself from all cases in which the Knights of Columbus has taken a position?” and, “Given your membership in this organization, what assurances can litigants have that you will deal with reproductive rights and abortion issues fairly and impartially?”

Here’s the thing, though: The Knights don’t profess anything that isn’t already Church doctrine. They’re not some crazy offshoot of Catholicism that preaches fire and brimstone and other extreme doctrines (however the senators choose to define that word). Their positions are the Church’s positions. The Knights are pro-life and pro-traditional marriage. We’re not talking about al Qaeda here.

It’s all too clear what Hirono and Harris are doing. Their questions are an all-too-cute, roundabout way of saying they believe faithful Roman Catholics have no place serving as federal judges. They just don’t want to come right out and say it.

So, it’s not just bigoted. It’s also cowardly. At least Feinstein had the bones to come right out and say she doesn’t want Catholics serving on the courts.

T. Becket Adams is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner, with a focus on media and politics. He is originally from South Bend, Ind.