Liberals have been trying to politicize the judiciary for decades.
Since they believe judges use their personal views rather than the law to decide cases, liberals demand to know a judicial nominee’s personal views on certain issues during the confirmation hearing. Since they want judges to serve certain political interests, liberals try to determine in advance how a nominee would decide certain cases.
This is a dangerous approach to the judiciary. Conservatives must show by example that they reject it.
This issue emerged recently in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Neomi Rao, who is nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said: “The issue is not: Have you thought about the world? The issue is: Are you willing to put aside your personal beliefs and follow the law?” Rao’s answer: “Absolutely.”
Just to be clear, Kennedy asked: “Even if you disagree with the law?” Rao replied: “Absolutely. That is the job of a judge.”
And to be even more specific, Kennedy asked: “Are you willing to rule in an abortion case in a way as dictated by the law, even if it contradicts your personal opinions about when life begins?” Rao responded: “Yes, of course.”
Rao’s answers were correct as a matter of basic principle. She is right that deciding cases based on the law rather than personal views is “the job of a judge.”
More importantly, however, her answers in the committee hearing were completely consistent with what she has said or written throughout her career. This is without a doubt the judicial philosophy she will carry with her to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Kennedy wasn’t the only senator to raise this issue during Rao’s hearing. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., asked whether Rao would “faithfully follow precedent of the United States Supreme Court as an inferior court judge … regardless of your beliefs.”
When she said yes, she “would put any personal views I had to one side,” Hawley responded: “That would be a refreshing change from many judges on our inferior courts today, I have to say.”
Once again, as Hawley affirmed, what matters is a nominee’s judicial philosophy, such as following precedent over personal views.
But on these grounds, some have criticized Hawley for an interview that came a few weeks later. He told Axios that he will support only judicial nominees “who have a strong record on life” that demonstrates “they have respect for … the interests of the unborn child.” He also said that he heard second-hand that Rao is “pro-choice.”
Hawley also seemed to say that someone must not only have certain personal views, but must have expressed or asserted those views publicly and forcefully enough to establish a “strong record.”
Whatever Hawley meant in that interview, he had the right approach during Rao’s hearing.
A judicial nominee’s personal views are no more relevant to her appointment than they are to her decisions.
During her hearing, Rao committed over and over to put aside her personal views, including on issues such as abortion, when she decides cases. In fact, if confirmed, she will take an oath to “impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me.”
The best standard for choosing the right kind of judges is to identify someone with the right judicial philosophy, combined with the character to maintain and implement it without bending to political or public pressure.
Neomi Rao fully meets this standard. She is right in sync with America’s Founders in her understanding of the proper role and limits of the judiciary.