(CNSNews.com) -- On Tuesday, while questioning judicial nominee Neomi Rao, who has been nominated by President Donald Trump to serve on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) asked Rao whether she believed gay relationships “are a sin.” This drew criticism from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who pointed out that the Constitution prohibits religious tests of those seeking federal office.
Booker first questioned Rao about a 2008 article in which she criticized the 2003 Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which de-criminalized same-sex relationships. He then began to ask Rao about her personal views on gay relationships.
“Are gay relationships, in your opinion, immoral?” Booker asked. Rao said she was “not sure” how her personal views were relevant to her duties as a potential judge, but added that she did not believe gay relationships were immoral. Booker was apparently not satisfied.
“Do you believe they are a sin?” he probed.
Rao said that, if confirmed, she would put her personal views on gay relationships aside and “faithfully follow” Supreme Court precedent.
“Senator, you know, my personal views on any of these subjects are, are things I would put to one side, and I would faithfully follow the precedent of the Supreme Court,” Rao said.
A few minutes later, Booker tried another tack, asking Rao whether she had ever had an LGBTQ law clerk. She reminded him that because she had not been a judge, she did not have law clerks.
“I’ve not been a judge, so I don’t have any law clerks,” she said. Booker quickly clarified.
“Sorry, working – someone working for you,” he said.
Rao said she was unaware of the sexual orientation of her staff, and did not discriminate or make hiring decisions based on sexual orientation, race or ethnicity.
“To be honest, I don’t know the sexual orientation of my staff, so, I, you know, I take people as they come,” Rao said. “You know, irrespective of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, I treat people as individuals.”
“Those are the values that I grew up with, you know, and those are the values I would apply if confirmed,” she said.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) immediately slammed Booker’s line of questioning.
“[The] Senate Judiciary Committee should not be a theater for mischaracterizing or twisting nominees’ records or views, nor should it be an avenue for persecution,” Cruz said.
“You know, we’ve seen a growing pattern among Senate Democrats of hostility to religious faith,” he said. “I have to say, I was deeply troubled a few minutes ago to hear questioning of a nominee, asking your personal views on what is sinful. In my view, that has no business in this committee.”
Cruz cited Article VI of the Constitution, which states in part that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
“Article VI of the Constitution says there shall be no religious test for any public office,” Cruz said. “We have also seen Senate Democrats attack what they’ve characterized as religious dogma. We’ve seen Senate Democrats attack nominees for their own personal views on salvation.”
“I don’t believe this is a theological court of inquisition,” said Cruz. “I think the proper avenue for investigation of this committee is a nominee’s record.”
The incident comes less than a month after the Senate unanimously passed a resolution, S. Res. 19, which condemned religious tests for public office and rebuked Democratic senators Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) and Kamala Harris (Calif.) for questioning another judicial nominee, Brian Buescher, about his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic service organization.
On Wednesday, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) called on the Senate to stop asking “discriminatory, anti-Catholic” questions of judicial nominees.
“Religious tests are unconstitutional and unjust, and they are an attack on all people of faith,” the USCCB wrote. “Religion inspires people to serve their neighbors by living out their faith in their local communities. Yet religious tests tell not only Catholics, but all Americans, that they cannot both serve their country and live out their faith. These attitudes may have prevailed at points in America's history, but they should not find new life in this country's future.”