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Why Ketanji Brown Jackson was pressed for answers about her faith

Lindsey Graham asked Ketanji Brown Jackson, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how faithful would you say you are in terms of religion?” That's not all right.


The second day of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings have been largely unremarkable, though as NBC News noted this morning, there was an eyebrow-raising moment when it was Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s turn to ask questions.

The mood in the hearing room noticeably shifted as Graham began peppering Jackson questions about her faith and how faithful she is. When Graham asked Jackson to rate how religious she is on a scale of 1 to 10, some people’s heads shot up, while others looked around, appearing to express shock at the tone of questioning.

This might sound like an exaggeration. It’s not. Graham, the former Judiciary Committee chairman who previously voted to confirm Jackson, quite literally asked, “Uh, on a scale of 1 to 10, how faithful would you say you are in terms of religion?” Moments later, the Republican added, “Do you attend church regularly?”

In case this isn’t obvious, questions like these are extraordinarily unusual in any confirmation process. Indeed, by some measures, this line of inquiry is wholly at odds with the Constitution itself, which explicitly prohibits religious tests for public office.

“I am reluctant to talk about faith in this way,” the judge responded, “because I want to be mindful of the need for the public to have confidence in my ability to separate out my personal views.”

It came on the heels of a similar exchange in which Graham pressed Jackson about her specific faith tradition, prompting the judge to explain that she’s a non-denominational Protestant.

“Personally, my faith is very important, but as you know there is no religious test in the Constitution under Article 6, and it’s very important to set aside one’s personal views about things in the role of a judge,” she said.

These were good answers to bad questions. In fact, the circumstances were absurd: There is no justification for a senator to ask a Supreme Court nominee how often she attends religious services or how she would rank her religiosity on a scale of 1 to 10. While I’ll concede that I haven’t searched the historical record in detail, I suspect this morning was the first time in American history such a question was even asked of a prospective justice in such an over-the-top, almost cartoonish sort of way.

But then Graham switched gears a bit, explaining the rationale behind his line of inquiry. From a separate NBC News report:

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., asked Jackson about her religious views and invoked Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., questioning Amy Coney Barrett’s ability to be impartial as a judge during her nomination to be an appellate court judge in 2017. “How would you feel if a senator up here said your faith — the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern?” Graham asked. “I found it offensive when they said it about Judge Barrett.”

Ah, yes, at that point, it started to make at least some sense. Graham wasn’t asking obnoxious questions about Jackson and her faith because he was being irresponsible; he asked obnoxious questions about Jackson and her faith because he thinks Democrats were mean to Amy Coney Barrett five years ago.

The South Carolinian was trying to make some kind of clumsy political point: Graham’s lack of propriety was a cheap call-back to what he perceives as some other senator’s lack of propriety in 2017.

In other words, Graham did this morning what he did yesterday: The senator, motivated by a baseless sense of grievance, continues to whine, packaging his partisan gripes into question form.